Epilogue: What have I learned?

After 22 days in the saddle, 3 countries (Germany, Poland and Czech Republic) and 2,451 kilometers on the road, I arrived back at home last Saturday.

Here is a glimpse of what I have learned on this tour.

General Insights

  • It is amazing what everyone can achieve when you set yourself a goal and put some discipline and hard work behind it.
  • We take stability, peace and prosperity way too much for granted. It is only a bit over 30 years ago that we were on the edge of nuclear warfare.
  • The end of the separation of Germany and Europe in 1989 without major violence or warfare was one of the biggest humanitarian achievements in modern history.
  • Germany is has very different regions and landscapes but it is really beautiful everywhere.
  • There is something like structural poverty in some remote parts of Eastern Germany which is shocking for me
  • The further you go East, the more infrastructure becomes an issue (availability ot jobs, state of roads, availability of shops, look and feel of villages)
  • Cyclists everywhere should all make an effort to connect, help and support each other more.

Bike setup

  • The Böttcher Randonneur (www.boettcher-fahrraeder.de) is a really nice and reliable bike with a good geometry for long distances. It also is very beautiful, I find.
  • There are a couple of weak spots however:
    • The mechanic disc braking system is too weak for the system weight. Probably, larger rotators would be needed to achieve more leverage.  I had some really critical situations because the brakes would not work effectively enough. Also, I needed to adjust the position of the brake shoes in hilly terrain multiple times per day to ensure effective enough braking.
    • Probably because of the long wheelbase, the entire bike goes into an oscilation alongside the longitudinal axis starting at 30 km/h when fully packed. This gets really disturbing at higher speeds. I had not observed that behavior when preparing for the tour with full gear but less load before. Maybe it has also to do with weight distribution left vs. right and front vs. rear.
    • The fact that the screws of the saddle post broke away and that the chain was ruptured has more to do with components than with the actual bike.

Bike Equipment

  • Bags
    • Handlebar: Ortlieb Ultimate Six Classic 5
      Perfect to keep all your valuables close to you.
    • Front: Ortlieb Front-Roller Classic 12.5 l
      Very good bags. One did get a puncture though.
    • Toptube: Apidura Expedition 0.5 l
      Love it. Perfect space for my battery packs.
    • Inframe: Apidura Expedition Frame Pack
      2 separate bags one for tools, one for rain gear. Perfect.
    • Rear:  Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic 25 l
      Very good bags. Especially I like the organizer bags that you can order with your paniers.
  • Water supply:
    • Adventure Hydration CrankTank4
      Love it. Holds 4 l of water. It took a while to attach it in a way so that the chain
      does not interfere with the tank.
  •  Tools
    • Bike Multi-Tool: BBB Cycling PrimeFold Extra-Large
    • Next to “Panzer-Tape” and cable ties of course …

Trekking Equipment

  • Tent: Outdoorer Trek It Easy 2
    Very nice tent for summer trecking. Great interior space. Would not recommend it for cold seasons since not enough protection from wind.
  • Matrace: Thermarest Prolite
    Love it. Just perfect for me and really comfy.
  • Sleeping bag: Deuter Exosphere -6° L
    Highly recommended. Perfect for the cause.
  • Outdoor stove: Primus Essential Stove Set 1300ml 2018
    Was even a bit over engineered. Does the job perfectly.
  • Seat: Uquip Three Sixty Three leged stool
    Love it. Just perfect.
  • Table: Uquip Folding Table Liberty
    It was defenitely worth the extra weight.

Tour details

Based on this tour, I can confirm that 120 km per day are doable for me with this setup.
However, a second break day would probably have been better.

Date   Distance Elevation
  Sum 2451 16258
  Avg 111 739
10.07.2020 1 124 1669
11.07.2020 2 130 1376
12.07.2020 3 80 822
13.07.2020 4 141 861
14.07.2020 5 116 581
15.07.2020 6 132 1040
16.07.2020 7 122 406
17.07.2020 8 119 264
18.07.2020 9 147 191
19.07.2020 10 132 425
20.07.2020 11 83 315
22.07.2020 12 114 485
23.07.2020 13 100 608
24.07.2020 14 138 282
25.07.2020 15 109 618
26.07.2020 16 47 127
27.07.2020 17 135 677
28.07.2020 18 118 996
29.07.2020 19 111 1085
30.07.2020 20 103 1535
31.07.2020 21 81 966
01.08.2020 22 69 929

Day 22: Walldürn to Mönchzell

Distance: 69 km

Elevation: 929 m

Today, I finally reached home after 22 days in the saddle and 2,451 km on the road!

I got up early and prepared breakfast. An early jogger and a lady walking her dog greeted me friendly yet slightly irritated.

The camp spot had not been ideal in hindsight as I found many better spots a couple of kilometers along the way even one with access to a lake. But it had been late yesterday, I was tired and I needed to make a decision.

The road was nice and the weather was warm. As this was the last day, I felt exhausted and needed to push my bike up a couple of hills.

Finally, I arrived at the river Neckar which was a sign of coming home for me. The last hills were really steep and long climbs but eventually, I reached our house around 2 pm.

After the initial welcome, I could not do much talking. I sat on the stairs of our wooden patio and just glanced around for an hour or so. Carolin and Tabeas friend Sam did the talking and I chipped in a couple of thoughts every now and then.

It will take a while before I will be able to grasp the deeper meaning of all the different colorful events, impressions and encounters of the last weeks.

I am very thankful for this trip and that I returned healthy and in good spirit. This tour was really intense, both physically but also from an emotional standpoint.

For now, sleeping, eating and NO CYCLING are big items on my agenda.

Day 21: Mittelhammer to Walldürn

Distance: 81 km

Elevation: 967 m

The morning started rather chilly. After breakfast I did my washing up in the river Regnitz. Visitors from the Czech side came over to visit the three-country-corner and this time, I showed them around.

After a bit of chatting how sleeping in a tent in nature is illegal, they invited me for a Slibovitz: “Nastrovje!” We drank to health and world peace. A schnaps right after breakfast is a bit unusual for me. Again, the entire scene was pretty surreal.

I packed up and cycled to Hof in Bavaria where I boarded a train to Würzburg. Being confined in a box called train for three hours felt a bit claustrophobic after this long time outdoors.

When I started cycling in Würzburg, it was around 36 degrees and the road went only uphill it felt. I simply could not drink enough and water supply was a real issue.

Also this part of Germany has some steep roads and I needed to push my bike quite a bit. Another factor next to the heat was that my body is simply tired after 21 days on the bike. But in contrast to other parts of Germany, people talked to me, asked if I was ok or needed some help. I appreciated that a lot and have learned that this is not necessarily the norm everywhere.

I took a risky approach and aimed for a camping site far away. Maybe it was a bit too risky. However, due to the elevation, I did not make it and ended up around 9 pm on a field near Walldürn. No river with fresh water this time. I will have to deal with my own supplies. Next level of outdoor life.

Tomorrow, I will reach home.

Day 20: Bad Blankenburg to Mittelhammer

Distance: 103 km

Elevation: 1.535 meters

The day started with a cup of coffee with Maggie and Tilman, both teachers for kids with special needs. I knew that this last day was going to be tough – potentially with the highest elevation of the entire tour – so I procrastinated a little.

At the beginning, I followed the river Saale for a while. Not long into the day, I had my first flat tire. That’s ok after 2,300 km given the conditions of many “roads” which I travelled on the last weeks.

What was absolutely not ok, was that during my repair at least 10 cyclist and also pedestrians passed by and not a single one of them asked if help was needed or made any other comment for that matter. That deeply disturbed and disappointed me. Why was nobody ready to help or show compassion?

The rest of the day was brutal as I was crossing the mountains of Thuringia. It was way over 30 degrees and in my memory, there was no single meter of flat horizontal road – I swear 😉

The small roads went either uphill with a gradient of 12% or more (partially on gravel) or it went downhill with similar slope. I suffered a lot, used swear words but kept on going.

While the roads and trails were rough, the landscape was absolutely gorgeous. The longer I cycled, the more rural and remote it got. Because of the steep elevation, I covered only little ground and it got later and later. I had no plans for the night yet which is pretty untypical for me.

Around 9 pm I finally arrived in Mittelhammer. Here the borders of Thuringia, Bavaria and the Czech Republic meet in one spot. This place is a symbol for the separation of Germany and Europe until 1989. It also marks the official end of my tour.

The spot where the borders meet is very hidden and far away from any roads. To my surprise a local woman kind of “awaited” me there. She greeted me and showed me around in this place. I asked if it would be ok to set up my tent there for the night and she kind of invited me to stay with her. She showed me a grave of a German soldier who was killed here in World War II (with his helmet still on top of the cross) and a sign to beware of poisonous snakes. “Do you really want to sleep HERE?” she repeatedly asked.

I confirmed since I did not consider staying at her place as an option. I had pondered sleeping outdoors in nature since the entire tour. It is illegal but in the case there was also no camping site around.

So eventually she showed me a place where I could set up my tent and where I could wash myself in the nearby river Regnitz. It was all pretty surreal.

After she was gone, I had my first official “shower” in a river. It was just awesome! I ate dinner and waited as long as I could with setting up my tent. The silence and the sounds of nature were breathtaking.

A sudden single gunshot, probably fired towards a deer, let my adrenaline level rise. After I went to bed, I laid stiff avoiding any possible sound for long. But eventually I relaxed and had a good sleep.

What a day! What a tour!

Day 19: Vogtei to Bad Blankenburg

Distance: 111 km

Elevation: 1.085 m

I started my day with a swim in the lake and was critically accompanied and observed by a family of swans.

After a nice breakfast with a great view, I slowly packed up and got onto the road again. On the way, I had a chat with my wife and we made some plans for my return on the next weekend. I am really ready to go home now. Almost there …

The first half of the day led me through huge treeless crop fields and windmill parks. I had a solid tailwind climbing up the hilly roads and it became really hot fast.

After a decent lunch in Gotha, which still needs a lot of civil and construction work in order to look as nice as it could, the landscape changed and I was following smalls valleys and went through forests again.

In the afternoon, I had to do a solid climb over 20 km, partially on gravel roads, as I was leaving the valley of the river Ilm. It was intense but ended in a 20km downhill road towards Bad Blankenburg 🙂

Halfway down the hill, the road was blocked but there was no way that I would climb all the way up again. So I just went through the construction site. One of many advantages of riding a bike – not much can stop you!

I arrived at the tiny campsite directly by the river together with two other young cyclists, Maggi and Tilmann. It was there first tour together and we started chatting. Eventually, we ate dinner together and talked a lot about zis, cycling, personal growth and life in general. A very nice and fun evening.

Day 18: Northeim to Vogtei

Distance: 118 km

Elevation: 996 m

I woke up a little too early. At breakfast it was rather cold and windy. On my way to my daughter Kara, I needed to make space for a two hour conference call with a client. That was my only business related call on the way and it was not very enjoyable.

At lunch time, I arrived at the place were Kara was staying. She had prepared a delicious meal for us and we exchanged latest stories, caught up with each other and laughed lots.

Then I went on to Duderstadt at the border between Niedersachsen and Thüringen. This is a very nice and old town full of “Fachwerk” type houses made wooden beams. Not far from there, in Teistungen, is the last border crossing between GDR and West Germany which had been completed and opened just before the wall came down in 1989. The buildings have meanwhile been converted into a large museum. The aura of the place is depressing though.

After having seen my daughter, I felt somewhat homesick. All this GDR stuff and a not very inspiring landscape did not help either. The roads in Thüringen are very hilly now and cycling has become more energy consuming. I still have some hundred kilometers to go, even if I passed the 2,000 kilometers mark today.

During this little inner crisis of mine, an elderly women overtook me on an electric bike. She went up a very steep hill with a far to high gear and could not manage to get up the slope and fell instead. I stopped and took care of her wounds with a band aid and some care. After this, she was very thankful and I felt much better.

Since I had lost 4 hours of cycling time (conference call, the lunch with Kara and the ambulance job), I needed to do some overtime on the bike. I managed to do 118 km but arrived at a very beautiful camping site near a lake and close to the geographical center of Germany only at 9 pm – but still got in with some luck.

After setting up my stuff, I enjoyed a beer at the lake front and went to bed with a smile.

Day 17: Niedernstöcken to Northeim

Distance: 135 km

Elevation: 677 m

Saying “good bye” from the people at the Friedenshof is always hard. A part of me usually wants to stay longer. However, around 10 am I was on the road again heading South towards Göttingen were Kara, my eldest daughter, is staying with her boyfriend.

The road took me along the river Leine through Hannover and couple of rather uninspiring little places. Also, it was raining a bit and there was draining headwind for a while. I did not cover much ground during most of the day.

Only in the evening the weather improved and the landscape became prettier as the small river Leine was meandering beautifully through a green valley.

Finally, I was able to complete 135 km by 8:30 pm and still found a camping site with some food on offer. The place is close to an Autobahn and has almost no even spot since it is on the side of a hill. But who cares?

Three other cyclist from Oberstdorf and Ulm were very interested in my project and my bike setup and we started chatting. Later, we had a beer together and did some shop talk around gear, equipment and other stuff.

I went to bed very late but with a smile.

Day 16: Celle to Niedernstöcken

Distance: 47 km

Elevation: 127 m

I was waking up to constant rain which did not come unexpected. However packing up in the rain is never great fun.

I attempted to dry my tent and followed the invitation of Sabine for a yummy breakfast in a dry place.

Then I headed off into the rain for the remaining little stretch to the peace farm (“Friedenshof”) in Niedernstöcken. If you want to learn more about this community: http://www.friedenshof.org

I know this place since 30 years and have spent a lot of time up here over the years. Even if it was a significant detour of 150km it would have felt wrong not to come by.

I arrived around noon and immersed myself instantaneously into the calm, mindful and caring atmosphere of this place. The garden is so beautiful and rich with herbs and flowers and it is great to see the advancements of the revamping of the barn.

Bärbel & Karsten as well as Monika & Jan have become friends and acquaintances over the many years and it was good to have a bit of time for catching up.

Day 15: Dömitz to Celle

Distance: 109 km

Elevation: 618 m

I started late into the day. Detlef and Sabine as well as their friends, who were all traveling by kaiak, wanted to know much more about zis and my fundraising project. It was a very good and inspiring exchange of thought and experiences.

Unfortunately, I had also been stung by a bee the day before. As a result, my left arm felt hot, swollen and was hurting. I had hardly slept during the night

I left the river Elbe and was heading towards Celle now. That is a significant detour but I wanted to meet old friends at the “Friedenshof”, a community that tries to establish a different way of living.

The road was uninspiring but always had a cycling path. I have to acknowledge however that I am spoiled by now, thinking back to the awesome and beautiful landscapes the weeks before. So I listened to a good audio book to distract my mind (“Zero”, a thriller on digital surveillance playing in a near future).

I arrived late in Celle at a camping site called “Silbersee”. The place looked like one of the places I had come across in Eastern Germany. A bit run down, mostly empty but really beautiful as such. I started chatting with the owners, Thomas and Sabine, over a late Pizza at the bar. It turned out that they bought the place 1.5 years ago from the city of Celle. The place was mostly avoided by tourists at that time. Much rather, refugees, people living on social aid and former inmates of the nearby prison had been placed here for many years in abandoned trailer cars and huts.

Even today, over 40 people live here with permanent residence. I was not even aware that those trailer parks actually also existed in Germany. I only knew of them from the US.

Since I was really tired and suffering a bit because of my arm, I went to bed early.

Day 14: Gudow to Dömitz

Distance: 138 km

Elevation: 282 m

Did I talk about “zis-luck” already? These are instances were zis-scholars experience unexpected and unlikely help by total strangers in difficult situations. Today was my big day of zis-luck.

The day started with some necessary bike maintenance. Especially the chain drive needed some love.

Then I headed off to find the “green ribbon trail”, i.e. the former inner German border. That wasn’t so easy to find and it took me some time.

Some younger locals who I asked had never heard of it. Matter of fact, the former border is invisible in some places, especially in towns.

Then I found the first landmarks in a forest: A memorial site for Michael Gartenschläger who had been shot in 1976 by GDR border police when he was trying to dismantle an automated gun that should keep GDR citizens from fleeing.

About 60,000 of these devices were installed alongside the border. The funnel was filled with TNT and metal shrapnels. It was triggered by a wire when somebody tried to climb over the five meter high fence. GDR officials always denied the existence of this weapons. Only after Gartenschläger had brought one as evidence, the officials had to confess their existence. Pretty shocking

At Boizenburg I was supposed to meet the river Elbe again. I had cycled the beautiful Elbe already earlier on this tour in Meissen and Dresden. I cycled up a hill when my chain drive suddenly made “crrrk ” and was ruptured. I chatted with Peter, my mechanic at home. We found out that I was missing the necessary tool to fix it. Meanwhile I had reached “Checkpoint Harry”, a former border crossing.

I asked two locals who were waiting for their meal in a nearby restaurant if they knew of a tool shop nearby. Mike, who works for Sensient Food Colors, immediately picked up his phone and called the owner of a bike shop he knew. He said “get your bike in the car, I will drive you over”. Within ten minutes, we were at the bike shop and my chain drive was taken care off. A great example of zis-luck.

Then, I followed the Elbe and met Paul, a young guy from Dortmund who was cycling up the Elbe. He wanted to know about zis and we started chatting.

We had amazing tailwind and despite the time lost because of my glitch I was still able to do 138 km.

At Dömitz, I did grocery shopping and was still able to make it onto the camping site.

Over “dinner”, I met Sabine and Detlef. Sabine had been politically active in East Berlin while Detlef was from West Berlin. They had fallen in love despite of the border in between. Both were observed, imprisoned and bullied by the Stasi (GDR secret service) before and even after Sabine’s Emigration 1984 to West Germany. They told me their heartbreaking story and it got really late.

What a day!