There is this fantastic adventurer and endurance cyclist from India. Her name is Vedangi Kulkarni, and her story is what it took to inspire me to get out on my bike again and ride it on a long haul.
Generally, I read a lot of adventure stories, especially adventure stories of women. But this only 21-year-old fearless and fabulous woman fascinated me. I read her story about cycling 29,000 km worldwide, and I was immediately hooked (check out her story in Jenny Tough – „Tough Women. Adventure Stories „).
When I read Vedangis’s story, my partner was in the middle of planning his third ultra-long distance hike. After he ticked off the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail from his list, he will now hike the Continental Divide Trail. As I am a vivid and passionate hiker myself, we initially planned to hike the CDT together in 2020. But then the pandemic hit, and we ended up postponing the hike. In 2021, I signed up for a new job that would not allow me to vanish into the wild for 5 to 6 months at a time. I canceled my dream of hiking the CDT with a heavy heart for now. At the same time, though, I encouraged my partner to hike the trail. It was his dream already before we even met.
Bidding him farewell in late April near the southern terminus of the CDT in New Mexico was very bitter-sweet for me and left me with a deep longing for my adventure for distraction. By then, an idea had already come to life in my head. Why not do it like Vendangi? I am going to go cycling! My partner and I share a huge passion for hiking, but cycling is my sweet first love and something I do from time to time all by myself.
Once again, I surprised myself with a destination that had never really appealed to me before. For whatever reason, I came up with Finland as a cycling destination. The logical consequence would be to go even further and eventually maybe even reach the most northern point of Europe, which is the Northern Cape in Norway.
After some research, I decided that this is possible and doable. Three major cycling routes cross Finland from south to north. There is the EuroVelo route 10, which is part of the Baltic Sea cycling route, then there is the EuroVelo Route 13, also known as the Iron Curtain Trail. If it were different times, I’d decide on this route as I already hiked a section of the trail in Germany. It follows the length of the former iron curtain and therefore is of historical and cultural significance. However, these days, in 2022, Russia started a horrible war by invading Ukraine; Finland and Sweden are applying to become members of NATO, and no one knows what the near future will bring. Whatever happens, I would not feel comfortable biking along the border between Russia and Finland. And then there is the EuroVelo Route 11, also known as the Eastern European Route, as it starts in southern Greece and crosses a few Eastern European countries on its way north. In Finland, though, it starts in Helsinki and goes through the country’s middle to the north. This route probably sounds like the least attractive one, but that is exactly what I am looking for. I am hoping for solitude, lakes, and endless pine trees. Some people warned me that this might be a little dull and boring as there are no mountains, but this would also mean no distraction, and after those emotionally stressful last two years, that sounds like the perfect route.
As soon as the pain of having sent off my partner to his CDT adventure eased a little, I started looking into my adventure. The more I read, the itchier my feet got. Cycling is my other not-so-secret passion when it comes to being outdoors. Before hiking long distances, I already biked long distances: I crossed the Alps from my then-home town and ended the trip in Venice. I cycled vastly through the former GDR, through western parts of Poland, and the Czech Republic. Daily 130 and more kilometers for 2 or 3 weeks were a vacation activity. I loved the freedom, the speed, and the independence that cycling also brings along. Since then, I have been cycling now and then, but I am far from my peak cycling fitness (and probably also far from my peak fitness). So, I don’t know if I will make it beyond the first day on my bike. However, I have confidence in my endurance and willpower.
Okay, so let’s see how this goes!
It is great to have a goal, name it, and work towards it. But it is also okay to be reserved about how far I will go and be unsure how far my physical and technical hardware will support me.
And it is okay to be reserved about what the final destination will be. Because I also don’t know, and I will find out sooner or later. Therefore, the only thing I know for sure: I’ll head north! First 80 km done!