Three things I have learned about life cycling from Gibraltar to the North Cape

Where to find more about this project: https://fundraising-for-zis.blog/category/general/zis-fundraising-tour-2021/

How to donate: https://www.betterplace.org/en/projects/76877

About five years ago, I started an initiative to cycle around the world to raise money for the zis-foundation (www.zis-reisen.de). zis gives study grants to young people between 16 and 20 years of age. The students have to come up with their own subject of interest in a country of their choosing and travel there alone and without own money for at least four weeks to study their topic and immerse themselves into the culture of the place. They also have to write a thesis about their topic and keep a diary to capture their thoughts, feelings and learnings.

Because of the Covid pandemic, I could not leave Europe during the last two years and needed to find different travel destinations. So it happened that I have meanwhile cycled 7,000km from Gibraltar, the most southern tip of Europe, to Europe’s most northbound frontier, the North Cape. On the way, I crossed 12 countries and was able to collect almost 90,000€ in donations which is the equivalent of 100 zis study grants.

Here are three things about life which I have learned on these journeys.

If you are persistent, you can achieve much more than you think

Many people think that it is not possible for them to cycle such a distance. They think one needs to be an extreme athlete to do this. However, everybody can cycle at a speed of 15km/h. This is really a slow and comfortable pace. If you go at that pace for 10 hours, you reach 150km on that day. This is already a very decent distance. If you then repeat this effort for 47 days in a row you get from Gibraltar to the North Cape. Small things add up to a real big thing if you repeat them often enough.

The world really is a safe place

Many people tend to overestimate the risks of traveling alone to remote places, through the wilderness or simple unknown countries. However, the insights of thousands of zis journeys of the last 60 years and also my own experiences show that we tend to confuse the unknown with risk because as humans we tend to fear what we don’t know. Once you immerse yourself into a journey and you open yourself up to other people and to what is wanting to happen, it is amazing how many miracles are out there waiting for you. In all my travels I have always experienced generosity, kindness, and support whenever I encountered a difficult situation. At the zis-foundation, there is even a name for it: we call it “zis-Glück”, i.e. the luck of zis-travelers. I have learned that risk and uncertainty are nothing to be minimized but something to be embraced instead because they are the door to highly unlikely encounters, unforeseen possibilities, and mind-blowing miracles.

Less is the new more

Having been a manager for several decades, I have learned to appreciate status, luxury, and comfort over many years of traveling. I learned to see it as a token of my achievements, as something that defines the status quo for me. However, over five years of cycling around the world, I had the chance to unlearn a lot of this. From sleeping in four-star hotels, I went to staying in simple hostels and finally to camping in the wilderness. What I find amazing is that the more I reduced my level of luxury, the more I felt joyful peace, deep content, and a feeling of wholeness which I have never experienced before. It is the appreciation and gratefulness for the little things, for the encounters with strangers and for the moments in nature that cannot be bought with money and yet are so precious.

How does this sound to you? I am looking forward to your thoughts and your own stories.

Summary & Lessons Learned

Here is a summary of my tour and also some lessons I learned along the way w/r to my gear in Canada.

DateFromToDay-NoDistanceElevation
Sum         2.807           28.752  
Avg             128             1.307  
17.06.2021MalmöMarkaryd1             127                  950  
18.06.2021MarkarydLovsjö2             158                  820  
19.06.2021LovsjöVadstena3             128              1.160  
20.06.2021VadstenaNora4             148                  982  
21.06.2021NoraBorlänge5             149              1.790  
22.06.2021BorlängeLake Trehörningen6             133              1.760  
23.06.2021Lake TrehörningenIggesund7             110              1.040  
24.06.2021IggesundBergafjärden8             106              1.100  
25.06.2021BergafjärdenRamvik9             113              1.300  
27.06.2021RamvikLake Mosjön11             135              1.520  
28.06.2021Lake MosjönFredrika12             123              1.390  
29.06.2021FredrikaRusksele13             121                  870  
30.06.2021RuskseleArvidsjaur14             129              1.060  
01.07.2021ArvidsjaurKåbdalis15             114                  960  
02.07.2021KåbdalisGällivare16                64                  400  
04.07.2021EvenesTennevoll18                73              1.200  
05.07.2021TennevollHatteng19             147              1.290  
06.07.2021HattengStorslett20             136              1.530  
07.07.2021StorslettAlta21             139              1.930  
08.07.2021AltaRusseness22             114              1.200  
09.07.2021RussenessNorth Cape23             160              2.000  
13.07.2022SvolværEveness27             180              2.500  

Stuff I did not need:

  • 3 legged stool
  • 1 aluminum pot & 1 pan
  • Water filter
  • GoPro Bag
  • Selfistick
  • Shovel
  • First aid kit
  • Big Multi-Tool
  • 20.000 mAh powerbank
  • Supply of muesli bars
  • Water bag (blue)
  • Spray for disinfection

Stuff I would have needed:

  • Thin gloves
  • Fleece cap
  • Skin repair creme
  • Waterproof folder for credit card etc
  • Tweezer
  • Micro-fibre underwear (short & long)

Things I would do differently:

  • Sharpen knife of cutlery
  • Smaller sleeping bag (down)
  • Round hat with mosquito net

Day 31: Malmö to Travemünde and home

I went to bed early after a chat with Michael, a slightly introverted cyclist from Darmstadt.

Around midnight I was woken up by a super loud alarm sound. It was a fire alarm and all passengers had to get to deck 11.

As it turned out, this was no fire drill but a real fire on deck 7 and one could also smell it. The fire itself had been extinguished pretty quickly, but it took time until the smoke disappeared.

It felt like the crew had the situation under control.

After an hour or so we could go back to our cabins and I directly fell asleep again.

I was woken up by an announcement that we would arrive in Travemünde shortly. I got ready, had breakfast and met Michael, the introverted cyclist, on the car deck.

We had the regular cyclists conversation comparing our gear and when our time came, we cycled off the ferry together and then parted ways.

I was super happy that Max, my car, was still there after a month. It felt already like a piece of home to me.

Putting all the gear in was done in minutes and then I was on the German Autobahn heading south at around 8:30am.

It was interesting how driving is different in Germany compared to Sweden and Norway. Obviously the speed is higher here but with this also comes aggressive and competitive behavior. I also noticed how I slowly got sucked into this myself.

After some traffic jams and a lot of diversions I arrived home by 5pm and got greeted by our neighbor Michiko and later invited to dinner by our other neighbors Nadine, Merih and Jürgen. It felt very warm and comforting to be amongst friends again.

It reminded me that in the Danish culture there is the concept of “hygge” which means luck but also has some elements from the German term “Gemütlichkeit”. One aspect of hygge is that your neighbors are also your friends. From that aspect I am lucky to have a lot of hygge in my life!

Home, sweet Home…

Carolin was still on vacation with her mum and kids and would come late home only tomorrow. Can’t wait to see her again.

Also, it looks like our house has been struck by lightning in the past week. Many things like the washing machine are not working anymore.

So, I still have some silent time where I can reflect for myself. I am trying to not go into “busy-mode” for as long as I can. Let’s see …

Next week comes the phase of readjusting, i.e. trying to understand what I am actually supposed to do at work. I have observed in the last years that this can take weeks. But it is also a good thing because you don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole so quickly.

Next day, Carolin came home and we celebrated being back together. We sat in her new camper van for hours and talked, drank beer and ate ice cream. It felt wonderful!

United again after 31 days

Learning of the day:

If you ain’t got love, it’s all just taking score
If you ain’t got love, what are doing it for?
John Bon Jovi

Day 30: Söderköping to Malmö

Today I am one month on this journey. What a great way to spend 30 days in an intense way.

I got up at 6:30am and started making coffee. Roos joined in and we started chatting again – this time more about politics and the eco-movement. I noticed that I did not want to pack up and get into the car. At 10am we finally said „goodbye“ and parted ways.

I felt a bit sad since I was closing a chapter – the journey to the North Cape – which I had thoroughly enjoyed.

Ship in a dock at the camping site

I got into the car and drove the remaining 500km to Malmö. Driving a car is such a waste of time. I can’t wait for autonomous driving to become a real thing.

I arrived just in time – even had a traffic jam along the way – and gave back the rental car. It was 30 degrees. Everyone in the city was running around half naked. What a contrast to the Lofoten.

Across the street was a nice Irish Pub and I had to kill a couple of hours. A nice reason for Fish’n Chips and an IPA.

After that I had a look around in Malmö downtown and came across a statue called „non-violence“. I felt this was very symbolic especially when it comes to zis travel projects.

Around 6:30pm I slowly started to drive outbound to the ferry harbor 6km outside of the city. The check-in was easy and relaxed. Around 8:30pm I was on board with a G&T to celebrate this nice sunset.

Learning of the day: What a great month!

Day 29: Umeá to Söderköping

Sleeping in a nice hotel bed with totally black window blinds makes for a great night sleep.

By 6:30am I was on the E4 again and covered another 650km (boring) to meet my old team colleague Matts in his cottage by a lake just south of Stockholm. He had invited me for “Fika”, the Swedish ritual consisting of coffee, something to eat e.g. pastry and a chat amongst close acquaintances. Fika can be done at any time of the day, even multiple times, and it is important.

After some quick calculations we found out that we had not seen each other for 18 years. Unbelievable! We had worked together in northern Italy implementing SAP in a Bombardier plant for locomotives back around the year 2000. Matts had be on the client site but since he too was an expat we hung out together a lot.

And the good thing was that after all these years we could just continue chatting like back in the days.

I was asking him tons of questions about Sweden and my observations about country and society and it was good to hear his perspective and the background he provided. And we also had coffee and “bolle”.

I also complained to him that I had not seen an Elk yet. So he told a story of a young Elk a couple of weeks ago who had pitched up just 50m from where we were standing. This made me feel a little better.

After a good 3 hours we said “good bye” and I continued driving south to meet Roos on a camping site next to a Göta Kanal in Söderköping. I had already gotten to know her at the beginning of my tour in Rusksele. She had been cycling up to the Norwegian border from the Netherlands, but was denied entry because of closed borders and her missing vaccination. So she had to turn around and is now cycling all the way back south and just crossed the 6.000km mark.

On the way I came through a lot of places which I had already passed by bike on my way up. It was a satisfying feeling each time.

Roos and I had some sort of dinner together and were exchanging on all the small and big adventures that each of us had encountered on their tours. It was super fun and it got late quickly. This is when I realized that I was now clearly below the Arctic Circle again and here in this region there actually is a sunset and it does get dark at night. This was actually quite comforting.

It was a perfect last evening of my time in Sweden and Norway before boarding the ferry back to Travemünde tomorrow.

Learning of the day: Old and new friends are like the spices in a delicious food. They make the difference.

Day 28: Evenes to Umeá

After a great night sleep, I said goodbye to the Nordland and the Lofoten with a feeling of gratitude and sadness. But I was also very ready to go back home. Weather was sunny again, perfect for traveling.

Originally I had planned to drive down the Norwegian coast but a quick reality check showed that I would have to take too many ferries which would complicate and prolong the journey. Since I will board the ferry to Travemünde in 48 hours that would be a little to risky.

So I went back the E10 via Kiruna to Luleå and from there turned south onto the notorious E4. This road is hell for cyclists but for cars it is the only possibility in Sweden to get from north to south quickly.

Norway has meanwhile protected its inbound borders with military. Outbound was no problem however. The Swedish border was totally unmanned.

In Kiruna I got myself some meds against diarrhea and they seemed to work quickly. A real relief!

Temperatures in the Swedish East-coast were around 25 degrees. What a difference to the Lofoten just yesterday!

In total I covered 800km today. Close to Umeá I found a nice motel. I still needed to do some laundry before I re-enter civilization. My clothes smell like a cage of lions.

Learning of the day: it is amazing how far you can cycle with a bike in just 23 days. It will take me five days by ship and car to get all the way back to where I started from.

Day 27: Svolvær to Evenes

Distance: 180km

Elevation: 2.500m

I knew that today would become tough … but not exactly that tough. Since rain had been forecasted I got up early and was on the bike by 5:30am. I had no breakfast to reduce the strain on my stomach.

Right from start itwas very windy. The first three hours were fine. After that it started raining and the traffic on the E10 picked up. Needless to say that there are no alternative bike routes up here.

For 100km after Solvær there was no infrastructure. Not even a hut to rest and hide from the rain. By noon I had already completed this distance and reached Lødimgen where I ate something and tried to get warm again, without much success.

Sine it rained cats and dogs, I waited about 1.5 hours to see if things would improve – but they choose not to.

In my inner team there was a lot of upheaval going on. More than one voice shouted things like „there is no way in hell that I am going back into this cold rain“. And this was still the nicest version.

However, eventually I went back on the road and tackled the remaining 80km. Unfortunately, my stomach problem was still there. I spare you the messy details.

Another challenge was to cross a bridge which was about 70m high at side winds with a speed of 15m/s ( which is a lot for a bike). This was the official bike route and there was no alternative. Have a look into the video to get a picture.

I had contemplated to stop for the night along the way and divvy up the distance. However, one major selling argument to my inner team had been, that I would be warm and dry tonight and that there would be no cycling in wet, cold clothes the next morning. This is really a horror for me when it is cold.

Around 8pm I finally arrived totally wet and cold in Evenes (aka base camp 2) with a new personal record. I had never cycled further with this bike and this amount of baggage.

I had parked my rental car near a wonderful camping site directly by the sea. What I had not known when I had fully intuitively picked this place on July 4 was that the island group of the Lofoten starts precisely here.

The owners recognized me immediately and had nothing but compassion for my shitty cycling weather today.

The very first step was to have a hot shower. While I had set up my tent, a Finish family had made a fire in a small hut directly by the sea. I asked if I could join. Unfortunately, the Fins soon disappeared into their camper car. They had small kids which needed to be put to bed. It was so good and relaxing to sit by the fire and suck in the warmth. Almost as good as a sauna.

Learning of the day: One good in the bad is that you can see what you are capable off.

Day 26: Honigsvåg to Svolvær (Hurtigruten)

The night has been terrible. I must have caught a gastrointestinal virus. I had diarrhea, I was shivering and my body was in pain. I decided to focus on getting as much sleep as possible and to skip breakfast.

Outside it was raining so I was not missing so much.

Around 10am, I went to see the ship’s nurse because I felt so miserable. The first thing she did was to put me in quarantine in my cabin. Even my access card to the cabin got disabled. The resolute lady was not so much concerned with my own well-being but rather wanted to protect the other passengers from me. Actually, she did not give me any medication but ran even a COVID test on me. So self-medication with Coke and pretzel sticks had to be enough.

So, I was stuck in my cabin and a part of me was upset about that … but the good thing was that due to the quarantine I could keep the cabin until the very end when we would arrive in Svolvær. Normally, I would have needed to vacate the room by noon already. And … drinks were on the house.

I probably missed a lot of great views while watching Netflix – but it is what it is and like this it was also somewhat relaxing.

Around early afternoon, I started feeling a bit better. After our arrival I got off board and drove straight to the next camping site.

I can tell from the few things I saw that the Lofoten are a very special place. It is wild here, and it looks a bit like Mordor in “Lord of the Rings”.

Learning of the day: It is what it is.

Day 25: Honigsvåg to Svolvær (Hurtigruten)

My ship left at 6am and I was up way too early. Something was not quite right with my stomach.

The storm had gone but the sky was still grey. Temperature had dropped again to 7 degrees.

At the harbor I met Marlene, a cyclist from Lyon. She is on a sabbatical and has been cycling through Switzerland, Germany and Sweden up to Norway and the Cape. She crossed the border to Norway „through the forest“ end of June. For the first time I did not feel the urge or the curiosity to talk to another cyclist. Apparently this feeling was mutual. Maybe missing chemistry.

The Hurtigruten ship is very impressive. It is a mixture of cruise and freight ship build for heavy weather and it is not a ferry. However, there is a small elevator at the side for some cars or other heavy goods like building materials or the mail. It is used both by locals and by tourists on a multi-day cruise.

The views were stunning and the whether quickly became better the more we got southwest. Actuality one could see the heavy clouds hanging over the North Cape once we had left the area.

Originally, I had planned to go to Tromsø where I would arrive at midnight because from the website I figured that this was the most southbound harbor. From there it would be a 3 hour drive with a taxi or similar which would be very expensive. Of course I could cycle the route again but time was running out and I still wanted to see the Lofoten.

It turned out that my original information was wrong and the ships are actually running from Kirkenes at the Russian border to Bergen in southern Norway in 5 days stopping at about 40 harbors along the way. I asked if could extend my trip until Svolvær on the Lofoten. The answer was “no, we reach our maximum capacity in Tromsø”. A little later I asked again, this time the higher ranking lady. “Come back after Hammerfest” she said.

As I am now officially a cruise ship tourist, I made use of the time in Europe’s most northern city for a short walk. The buildings itself are simple and functional. All of them are from the 1950s or later. In WWII the Germans troops had evacuated northern Norway by force and destroyed the entire infrastructure so the Russians would be slower in their progress south. I still vividly recall the conversation with a Norwegian lady about this so-called “Lyngen-line” and the “roads of blood” which refers to the forced labor with locals which the Germans applied to build their defense infrastructure.

It is unbelievable and encouraging that today, 76 years after the war, a majority of the tourists are Germans without any hostile intentions.

After my stroll through Hammerfest, I walked back to the reception manager and asked kindly for a third time. Now, it was finally possible and not expensive at all. This means I will stay one night on the ship and reach the Lofoten tomorrow afternoon – yeah! From there I will then cycle east to my base camp 2, aka the rental car.

That now feels like a much better plan. The only downside: now I have time to miss Carolin, my wife. Long distance cycling is not so much hers but a cruise ship tour we would normally do together.

Day 24: Honigsvåg (Honey Way)

I had really reached my performance limit yesterday which is why I couldn’t sleep properly.

First priority was to wash and dry all my clothes and plan my trip down south. The other priority was to do nothing and most of all don’t get near the bike.

So, Rosinante had to wait on the porch while I was chilling inside. Outside, temperature had dropped to 8 degree meanwhile and there was a real storm going on (by German standards) which made my hut only even more comfy. I was so happy that I did not have to cycle today.

After a little lunch time nap, I had reserved the sauna which was super luxurious. When I was done I walked back the 300m to my hut just in my bathing pants. This felt great – for the first 100m. The rest was a little bit chilly to be honest.

I talked to the nice host who is from Honigsvåg and wanted to understand how it is in to live here in winter when the sun does not shine at all. She mentioned that the weather can get quite harsh with heavy storms and temperatures around -10 degrees. Also snow can get many meters high. She explained that the community of family and friends is very important in these months and that the sky in fact is not totally dark. There are the Northern Lights and also the colors that are created on the horizon because of indirect.

I am not convinced that I could stand this but I am willing to try it out one day – in a nice warm apartment with a good heating.

I was also scheduled to meet Doreen again. But she meant to meet at the actual Cape where I meant to meet at the camping site – which is 25km away.

Other than that, the day was uneventful. I am looking forward to getting onto the Hurtigruten tomorrow and hope that the gale is over by then.

Learning of the day: Good communication is an art.