Today was an extremely poignant day. I think I re-discovered the point of the trip. I endured the steepest and longest hills I have ever cycled. The cold meant I lost all feeling in my feet descending the climbs. My legs gave way under me as the hills just wouldn’t stop coming. The rain was upsetting on the slow ascents, and hit me hard in the face on the quick descents. Yet it was probably one of the best days in my life.
Motivated by early starts I was out of the door by 8am having had a great big breakfast of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, cinnamon grahams, orange juice and, most crucially, a big pot of coffee! But today it was cold. It was the first day of the trip where I had to wear more than my lycra shorts and short sleeve cycling top. Straight away, I hit the climbs I knew I had coming for me. It got me warm, but my toes were still tingling from the cold. I stopped and put on an extra pair of socks. I reached the top of one hill where I’d only seen 2 cars in the 45 minutes of climbing. I was a lone ranger on the vast expanse of the German countryside.
Standing up on the bike, in my lowest gear all the way, I was exhausted. Surrounded by the pine trees of the forest, it was dark and damp. Eventually, I saw no more trees on the tarmac ahead, just grey sky and as the saying goes: “What goes up…must come down”. I immediately descended into the oncoming frost, causing my fingers to become numb. At the bottom of the valley I stopped and put on my longer gloves and took the opportunity to stock up on some sugary sweets.
Back on the bike and into the next climb. I was getting hot, yet still felt cold – a weird sensation. I began to think of the forests. This German land was where a lot of the fighting took place during the war. The soldiers would be out there day and night in the cold, sleeping in the wet shelled out holes in the forests unless they could avoid it. It is only the beginning of October but it was awful for me despite the fact that it wasn’t even raining and I was well prepared.
Three hours into this climbing and I reached another peak. A small shack offered what seemed to be food and maybe a hot cup of coffee. I considered continuing but gave in to the temptation. “Café?” There were no English speakers there but everyone understands “Café” – coffee. I saw a sausage on the grill – “Würst?”. The man smiled at me and filled a bun with mustard waiting for the sausage to be cooked. His wife looked at me and smiled whilst holding a lit cigarette; it seems the indoor smoking laws haven’t reached here yet, or at least are not enforced! We tried to talk to one another; of course the weather is the perfect topic. She made some sounds at me and I inferred that she was asking whether I was cold. They showed me the newspaper forecast for today which showed no rain but an absolute downpour tomorrow. I’d better get a move on! I stepped outside and the cold hit me. Time for another jumper.
The next hill offered a spot of rain, not much, just enough to let me know it could be worse. Another 50 minutes of lugging my bags containing laptop, clothes and tools up a hill in drizzle led to a ridge. The heavens opened – I was going to get wet. I donned my waterproof and began the descent. I didn’t have to pedal for 10 kilometres; but I did to try to keep my legs warm. Each raindrop felt like a small sting on my face.
I checked my map again. Relief. Knowing that the small blue lines – indications of water – mean the source of a spring, which means on top of a hill, and the bigger bits of water (where the little ones join up) is going to be downstream. I found a path all the way to my destination adjacent to this comforting blue line. I began the descent, excited that I didn’t have to climb again soon. Hopefully not again today.
I was right. Lots of freewheeling. I turned my music up. The clouds parted as if the weather gods were granting me a prize for sticking at it through the hard climbs. The vineyards of Germany surrounded me as I descended at upwards of 50kmph (hoping not to get a blow-out again). I admire the scenery. I let the sunlight warm my face.
Then The Rolling Stones played in my ear: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need”. A British band with a great hit. Hurtling along the German countryside I sang loudly to the wind screaming at the top of my voice. I was extremely happy. Possibly the happiest I have ever been.
I started to think about this whole trip. The liberation path is just one part. The overriding thought is to remember the victims of The Shoah, The Holocaust. More than six million Jews killed. 6,000,000+. I realise how lucky I am to be doing such an amazing trip. I feel so liberated and free to do what I want when I want. Jewish and British. British and Jewish. It made me realise that I am doing this trip because I can. As a “Fuck You” to those who tried to oppress others in the past. A “Fuck You” to Hitler.
I try and think what someone who was killed at Auschwitz might feel about my journey. I hope they would be happy that the world (or at least the western modern world) that I live in allows people to do this. Without prejudice. Without fear. I hope they would be happy for my happiness. The feeling of being alive that I have experienced today. Waking up early, attacking the hills as hard as I can, documenting it to tell others. Living life as I want to and in my eyes, living it to the full.
I don’t think the world should ever have gone through any genocide to learn a lesson. But this has happened. We cannot change those events of the past, but we must learn from them. We must learn not to make the same mistakes again and to prevent others from making them now and in the future.
Tomorrow it is meant to rain hard all day, and there is a train station next door that will no doubt take me straight to Frankfurt… But I am more than determined to cycle in whatever conditions try to stop me, and I plan to enjoy every moment of it.