It was May, 2023 and I was all set to head to Madrid to start my journey. I had been into bikepacking for quite a few years and absolutely loved it, and this was going to be the longest journey I had embarked on till date. Although I was very excited, starting off this journey felt different. There were a lot of mixed emotions as it essentially signalled the end of life in The Netherlands after 3 wonderful years for me, and I was leaving a huge part of me behind. However, I felt compelled to do this trip, knowing full well that these months would never come back.
From the Spanish highlands to Alpine crossings
Given everything I was leaving behind though, the first few days of the trip were very difficult from a mental perspective. I decided to deal with it by spending as much time on my bike as possible, and by physically pushing myself to the limit to distract my mind in some way. I was often doing 200+ km with close to 2,500 metres of elevation gain at times and cycling from sunrise well into the night. It wasn’t easy, but it somehow did help me ease into the journey. Having settled in, I was starting to really enjoy the landscapes I was cycling in. The central Spanish highlands were a big surprise for me. They were so isolated, and very often I wouldn’t see a single soul on the road for hours. It was also very different to any landscape I had ever cycled in before, and the Alto Tajo National Park in particular was magical.
On reaching the coast, it was much more densely populated but beautiful nonetheless. Costa Brava with its pristine beaches was the highlight along that stretch. There’s a little town called Tossa De Mar which takes you back in time a thousand years. It’s a fortified settlement with a castle built on land protruding into the Mediterranean sea, and it’s truly magical. I then followed EuroVelo 8 - Mediterranean Route into France, crossed the French Alps into Italy, headed east towards Lago di Garda, followed EuroVelo 7 - Sun Route towards Innsbruck, and then headed west into Switzerland from there. During my time in Italy, Austria and Switzerland, I met many friends, and my family visited me from India for two weeks as well. This gave me a break from the wild camping and having a roof above my head and a warm shower felt like a luxury. It made me a lot more grateful for the little things in my day-to-day life.
The ups and downs of long-distance cycling
The next section of the journey was tough. I followed EuroVelo 15 - Rhine Cycle Route along the Rhine, and EuroVelo 3 - Pilgrims Route in northern Germany. The routes were beautiful and without much climbing, so it was easy riding but since I’d spent so much time with people close to me during the weeks prior, I almost felt like I had to go through the entire process of letting go all over again. I tried to ride long hours, but since the weather wasn’t great, that was also a challenge. The evenings were long and lonely, and it was quite difficult to stay motivated. The thought of reaching the Galdhoppigen, Northern Europe’s highest peak (which I had set as a personal goal when starting out) kept me going. As I entered Denmark, I crossed paths with another cyclist, Manoa, who was cycling towards the North Cape from Strasbourg. We clicked instantly and were doing the same route for the next couple of days. The evenings suddenly were filled with conversations on all kinds of topics and a lot of laughs, and just being able to share the journey with someone like Manoa was so nice. He really brought back life to my journey. Upon reaching the north of Denmark, our paths diverged, and I took a ferry across the North Sea to Kristiansand (Southern Norway).
I followed EuroVelo 12 - North Sea Cycle Route in southern Norway up to Haugesund, and the landscapes were unreal. From Haugesund, I headed inland along the fjords towards the Alpine region. As I was approaching Jotunheimen National Park, the roads almost disappeared. The gradients were extremely steep as well and that resulted in hours of bike pushing and cursing, but I finally got there and was all set to hike up the Galdhoppigen. The weather was great the next morning, and I started out hiking very early. Since the climate there is so harsh, there’s practically no life. I was just surrounded by rocks and snow, it was strange. There were so many thoughts and emotions pouring through as I approached the peak. I knew I was reaching the end of the journey, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratefulness for everything I had experienced.
Final stormy days
I then headed towards Rondane National Park to do some more hiking before finishing the journey. The weather wasn’t great, so I didn’t see anyone for quite a few days. Suddenly, things became much worse. Storm Hans, one of Norway’s worst storms in decades, hit the region hard. The winds were crazy, and I was sure that my tent would collapse. I had placed it on the leeward side of the mountain though, hoping for sufficient protection from the wind and luckily for me it worked. Water did seep in from below, but with a little bit of improvisation I managed to keep it dry for the next few days.
As soon as the winds subsided, I headed out of the mountains towards Trondheim. The rain was still relentless with many regions flooded, so I stayed at a 24-hour gas station one night before setting off on a 200 km ride to wrap up the journey. The sun came out for the last 6 hours on the final day, and it was the most amazing feeling in the world. I reached Trondheim that evening under bright blue skies, something I hadn’t seen for almost two weeks.
The calm after the storm
That was the end. It didn’t feel real. So much had happened. I needed time to process it all. I will forever be grateful for the wonderful people I met, and the incredibly diverse landscapes I saw. The heatwaves, the hailstorms at sub-zero temperatures, the relentless winds, the internal battles with loneliness, and all the barriers which made me feel like giving up have all made this journey sweeter. I look back at those moments with a big smile on my face now. I guess it’s during those tough times that you grow.
Would I do this all over again? To answer this, a thought experiment by Nietzsche from the Gay Science comes to mind: “What, if some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you:
‘This life, as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh must return to you—all in the same succession and sequence.’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!’
My answer to this question when I think about my time on this journey is clear: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!’.
Author and pictures: Rohan Daniel