special thanks to Pepe and Helmut for their repairs, and to all the people I met along the way.
As I write this the cars rush past the window of my hackney studio, sloshing the rain in potholes. Grumble of buses slowly moving around the city.
I have been back in London for over a month now.
And suprsingly its been great.
Though getting into work has been tough, as I knew it would be, outside of the hours I spend on interesting (if difficult) projects, I have been leading a great life. Caroline has made every effort to soften the crash back to reality that London represented to me. We have been to great exhibitions, at the serpentine, hayward, tate, seen shows and movies, picniked, cycled, drunk, and eaten like royalty.
I have softened, no longer just a frame of tendons and sinew, there is no where for me to stretch out and just ride here. And that Rose lies in pieces in our hallway, waiting for complete overhaul, also bothers me. Looking for new parts for Rose, and a new bike for Caroline, so that I can resume this adventure with her at my side, often interrupts my useless toil as an animator. Life seems very full suddenly with friends and events, meals and drinks, meetings and projects, and traffic. But this is a good thing too, to be busy and productive. To be in the comfortable surroundings of society and possesions.
Pushing through the locked traffic on New Oxford street, cyclists squeezing through the gaps, weaving and ducking, and somehow there is a sense of winning. There is a cycling revolution happening in this city and I feel part of it.
Fireworks over the Thames, late summer sun, bright orange autumn trees,and sunday roasts, all endear england to me. Pints!
But what keeps me going is the knowlege that this is but a temporary stop before continuing on what I know is real life, beyond the spectacle. And hopefully next time it will be with company, a nomadic nation of two.
Berlin was fantastic. I had almost three weeks there, of settling into a city, that one day I hope to live in. I had company for most of it. My friend Rebecca had just moved to the city and together we explored it. There is a great atmosphere in Berlin, especially at the end of summer. Most people seem to be busy being idle, filling the streets and parks, drinking on the curbs, canal sides and any patch of grass. And friendly too, I make some friends, in small circles infront of wall remains. My days are full with cycling from district to district, exploring, from my great little apartment in Kreuzberg. Table tennis in the parks on huge concrete tables, badminton under the trees, bands play loud at mauer park, and I try to trace the history of the fascinating history of the city through walks and rides. Yes I like it here. Cheap and unpretentious, warm.
and when Caroline arrives it gets better still, and it is with some pride, I can take her to some of the places I have discovered, and go to new ones together.
Of course there is a tension, because I don’t want to leave, but there are good things to come too.
I arrive into Berlin at about midday, after a long 30 or 40km or so through its outer suburbs, trying to avoid major roads. I send a few emails , to arrange to pick up keys to the apartment I will be borrowing for the next 13 days. My phone has seized up since being rained on in Dresden as I hunted for a hostel.
Doze and read next to the canal.
I meet up with an old friend, Courtney, who has the keys, to 68 Manteuffel strasse, and we catch up over a Berliner beer.
The apartment is beautiful, and I pass the evening in it, glad to have somewhere that briefly I can call “home”, thanks to Staf and Desh.
So I will be in Berlin for a couple of weeks, until Caroline arrives here for a weekend, and then we go to London together. I really like this city already, but know its going to get a whole lot better once she is in it too.
Stopped about 30km from Berlin. I will make the final advance in the morning. Fed an wrapped for bed. The smell from my tent tells me I need to pause in this journey, clean and refresh my belongings. I am not quite over my food poisoning of several days ago. When nature calls its more of a deafening yell.
Lost a courgette somewhere along the road.
It was a steady uneventful day, of music and lectures on Ghandi and Thoreau. as I cycle in the sun, I think of the great mass of other men, leading lives of quiet desperation. Its mostly a pine forest ride, occasional rain, and my speed is fanned by the wind.
I grapple with my desire to keep doing this, to not work, to forever pedal, and the concept of returning back to London only becomes palatable when it is viewed as a necessary break from travel, and not the other way around, and because of the beautiful girl I care for that waits there, the last green leaf of summer on a winter tree. I hope that Caroline can join me when I return to this, my life by wheel.
Dresden is a cool little town. In the new city cafes, bistros, bars and restraunts abound. Its a cute dozen bohemian blocks that I cycle before stopping to take coffee. And with a short ride I am in the old city, an impressive cluster of huge dark old buildings, ringed by new commerce and shopping built on the ruins caused by the allied bombing at the end of the war. Huge soldiers uphold and gaurd the city gate. There is still vast empty spaces, where construction is starting. I buy new shorts after yet another pair tear with the pressure of the saddle. And in my new finery, and feeling recovered from my brief sickness, I cycle out of the city, late at about 6. Since loosing my Speedometer I have no idea how far I ride each day. Without the time at hand, I simply cycle until I feel tired, the day darkens, or a good spot to sleep presents itself. Today I know to stop as I see a cloud of thousands of birds swirl and dive to roost.
I am in Dresden. have done the rare thing of paying for a hostel, but feel incredible after a good nights sleep, soft duvet, giant white pillow, and a huge buffet breakfast that expands my stomach.
I poisoned myself the night before with day old feta, or river water from a drink bottle with a growing green residue. So my sleep was nauseaus and uncomfortable. Groaning with stomach ache beside a river, flickering light from roadways, and the thunder of passing trains. When day comes, whatever battle that has been fought in my guts has drained all my resources. Every joint and muscle ached, and I struggled to ride rose to find water. Struggled to hold my aching head up. Long rests on park benches and in grass,. Litres of liquid, but my squirming guts say no to food.
I cross the boarder into Germany, along the Elbe river. Its a beautiful quiet road, a corridor of high green hills. At the edge of the boarder, in a dramatic ravine, an enclave of chinese sells cheap fabrications of everything.
I take the worng road to Dresden, and instead of following the flat river path, start lurching up hills. muscles creak in my exhausted condition. My reward is a long descent, through torrential rain, to stand wet and shivering in the city centre.
Caroline helps me find a hostel, and wearily `i collapse into a bed.
On saturday I ride out from Prague, still aching a little from my time with Batrider. but it was very good to see them. Sarah, Sam and Steph came and picked me up in Prague. It took no time at all for realations to be perfectly normal (well as normal as can be) and the 4 months apart to seem like no time at all. As it always does amongst good friends. Swim in a river, jump from a tree into its fast flow, on our way to their next venue, about an hour north of Prague. and the gig is fun, Batrider are in great form, and we spend the night in an abandoned mental asylum, with some Czech bands, pushing each other around screaming and laughing on an old mobility scooter, dodging the piles of desks and beds.
The next day we revisit that same river on our way back to Prague, and lie in the sun after a picnic lunch. The evening is blurred, my camera battery won’t charge, so I have no record of how it went. But Sarah, Sam, and Steph, played fifty metres beneath the ground in a labyrinth venue. We bolted as soon as the dance music came on, and jocks descended from the other levels. A bar before bed in a friend of friends apartment. Its going to be great to see them again soon.
Its slow progress along the intermittent quality of the Czech cycle path. Thirty kilometers out of the city I realise that I have lost my phone, a loss made more painful because I am desperate to talk to Caroline about my decision not to go back for her Birthday. In the next town I call me, and a czech man answers. Fortunately he speaks English, and I board a train back to Prague, and cycle to where I think he lives. I have the address wrong but after a few more slightly confused conversations, stuffing Kroneys into public phone boxes, he comes to where I am. Not only does he deliver my phone, but then takes me and Rose back to the town where I caught the train, and driving slowly along the river path, we choose a good place to put down my tent fro the night. He is a member of that great fraternity of cyclists and very kind.
He had found my phone half submerged in a river, and as it dries, its functions return, slowly, so that before I sleep, a can send a good night message to Caroline.
Sat on prague riverbank steps, a boat playing jazz motors past. I want to sleep, but don’t know where to do it. Smokey cheese and pickle, more bread and soup. I am not tired but want to put to rest the thoughts of Caroline, London, and work that have troubled me all day. The conflict of wanting to make her happy on her birthday versus my fierce resistance to end my trip early by flying back to England to do so. And all day long its been this battle of a decision, and the rush of cars beside me on this major road, so that I feel stressed and agitated and want to put it all down.
And the day earlier was not much better, I was very glad for my night of comfort, in the german house, because all day long I had to work up and down hills between Germany and the Czech republic in a persistant drizzle rain. The best part of the day is the rich soup I make at its end, looking out from one of the last summits, to flatter and milder hills for tommorow.
So I take a drink in Prague, and wait until its suitable late to return to a riverside park, and throw down my self deflating mattress, behind a clump of trees, well hidden, and almost touching Rose.
The rain has been swept away in the night, and it is not too long, cycling along the river that I run into Jeroun, from Belgium, who by a rare chance, is cycling to Passau like me. a fellow cycle traveller, who has pedaled more Kilometres than I have over the last 4 months, from Antwerp, to Santiago de Compestella, to italy, Austria and more. We talk of it all as we cycle, the details of our journey, and agree that we have found the best way of life. And though I have this day lost my cycle computer I know that many kilometres pass by in conversation, including a few misdirected ones, from being too deep in talk.
He has a fantastic mode of camping. able to speak many languages he simply asks at housese and farms wherever he goes, if he can pitch his tent in their garden. This inevitable leads to them inviting him to bed, shower, and eat in the house. And that is how we find ourselfs in a german mansion next to the Danau, drinking our cheap red wine (inspired by the better cups of wine we had in Passau square, that Jeroun describes as “like an Angel pissing on your tongue”) and sleep in a comforatbel spare bed. What luxury afforded him by being able to speak german and having the balls to ask. I do like the sense of adventure and independence in pitching a tent in the wilds, the solitude, but this is a great way to meet people and properly rest after a long day of riding. I get plenty of my precious solitude the next day.