This has been the most challenging day of my life (so far).
The first hot and sunny day of my travels was finally here. For the two weeks I had bicycled, there hadn’t been a single day without rain, so I was really looking forward to the nice ride in sunshine and happiness. I was about to start bicycling from Dortmund to Cologne and prepared myself for the road with excessive amounts of strongest sunscreen, alot of snacks and bottles full of water. Me and my friend Coco checked the shortest route for me, and as I left Coco warned me about the uphill in the beginning. I don’t mind about a little uphill, I thought, for the sun is shining and weather is sweet.
I headed out a bit before 11 am, when it was already very hot, and the temperature kept on climbing. So did I upon getting out of the city. The first hills were not that bad, so I made pretty good progress in the beginning. It was probably the third or the fourth one which caught me by suprise. The hill would just keep on going and going, and finally I had to get off my bike and push it up the rest. As I got to the top, I had drank my two liters of water and refilled them in a restaurant.
After an uphill always comes a downhill, and this was my first real downhill on the trip. I certainly got to feel how fast I could go with my bike, and even got scared with the speed. I felt like I truly outdid myself by conquering the big uphill so bravely, and thought now the climbing stayed behind.
I have never been so wrong. After the long downhill, there was another uphill, and this one was double as high as the first one. Sun beaming from the sky, me pushing the pedals with all my strength, I sweat my way slowly uphill. I passed through an idyllic smalll “mountain” town, with it’s marketplace full of people shopping in the lunchhour, a trubardur playing a mandolin under a big tree and me in the middle of everything catching my breath and people’s stares.
The down- and uphills continued on. I kept on adding suncreen as I could see my skin slowly turning red, and chugged down a bottle of water after another. The temperature had risen up to 32 celcius, and there were no clouds protecting me from the scorching beams of sun. At some point I started getting a headache, probably from the heat, and finally had no choice but to rest under a tree in the shadow, when my eyesight turned black for a moment. I was probably on the very edge of having a heatstroke, and relieved my boiling body by pouring cold water on my head and cap. I don’t recall when I had ever sweat so much and from every possible pore I had in my body. As I ate lunch in a random canteen, I left behind a swetstained chair and probably also my friend’s GoPro with the photos. (Sorry Tomas…)
The mental breakdowns started around 6 pm and 60 kilometres, when I was reaching the town of Solingen. Every time I saw another uphill, I bursted into tears. My body had never been so tired, and the lack of energy made my mental state rather unstable. I somehow ended up on private property, and was led out there by a guy in his car, telling me to follow him so he could show me the right way. I followed him the best I could, but I guess he run out of patience to wait for me – at some point I just saw him driving away in the distance. I stopped on a bridge to sob and gain my strength by eating dates. After trying to pull myself together for about half an hour, I continued, only to find myself from another uphill, and noticing at this point that I didn’t have my GoPro anymore; another breakdown. I hadn’t made this slow progress before, and was tired, frustrated, hungry and thirsty all the time. Tiredness made me make some stupid decisions, for example following my map-apps’ directions to the woods and finding myself in the middle of a beetrootfield, walking the heavy bike in the mud, being stung by moskitos and cursing my stupidity outloud. I also dropped my phone on the asphalt again, twice.
So close to giving up, the only thing that kept me going was the thought of a shower and a bed to sleep on. I finally made my way to Cologne at 11pm, after 12 hours of bicycling 100 kilometres, and most of it going steep uphill. Taking a shower was a particularly cleansing experience, as a stream of black water run down my legs and into the drain. My host ordered us pizza, and I passed out soon after eating.
One thing that day definitely taught me, is the fact that even though rain sucks because it makes you and your stuff wet, it’s still just water. Heat is the real enemy, because it makes you physically sick and unable. And still I have decided to go quickly towards the south because I’m done with the rain. Heh.
This is Silja’s first proper long journey on a bike that will go for over 2500 km. Follow her on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter for updates. Until next time.