Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea

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one year later …

It’s been a year or so since I wrote last and much has happened. And it’s hard to believe that one year has already rolled by - time literally flies. I won’t attempt to sum up what has been happening over the last year since I arrived back in Germany and then turned things around within a couple of weeks to arrive where I’m at right now: Miami. Suffice it to say that the first weeks after my arrival here were different … very much so. By now, I am very happy with where I’m at and had actually planned a short bike trip to Key West this weekend, but we decided to cancel due to incoming bad weather (windy, rainy, exposed highway). Will do it within the next couple of months then.

I have a favor to ask you, the readers of this blog. I am in the process of putting together a photo book over the holidays and would like your input. Specifically, what some of your favorite pictures were. Ideally, you would point them out to me either on the blog site or on the flickr site. Alternatively, you can describe them to me or describe the day that you think I posted them and I will try to see whether I can remember which ones those may be. You can either use the comment function below or email me.

This picture is already on the list …

Thanks already for your help. For those who celebrate, happy holidays!

December 18, 2009   1 Comment

Day 265 (Germany): Heidelberg - Gengenbach (back to where I started)

Because I was still on Beijing time and because I went to bed at around midnight I woke up much earlier than Michael. Despite my trying to be quiet I did of course wake him up and after bidding our farewells, I set out by bike again. It was cold and miserable. While it hadn’t rained, it was damp and the cold wetness crept into my clothing. But thankfully there was a plan. Tanja and her kids were waiting to have breakfast with me and so I put in the first stop just about 15km south of Heidelberg. Which was good. I had been feeling a bit flimsy the past couple of days and somewhat weak and had been sweating majorly during the night. That pretty much told me that I was on the road to being sick. Oh well …

A long breakfast meant that I wouldn’t be able to reach my hometown today. Given the conditions (strong headwind, general nastiness outside and feeling sick) the decision was easy. I would take the train for a while and see where I would end up. I got a ticket almost all the way home and felt strange sitting in the train rumbling back to where I started. All around me the familiar coming and going and pre-Christmas bustle. People were heading home (it was Saturday), some saying something about how long they had been traveling (4 hours). Which I have to admit that I had to chuckle.

I had to switch trains in Karlsruhe where the weather was still not any better. And I felt worse and worse. Once on the train, things changed pretty quickly and rather dramatically. I was out of the train in no time and started pedaling again. Yes, you can accuse me of being a whimp now, but I simply wouldn’t have been able to go the distance from Heidelberg to Gengenbach and had something planned for my arrival. Here is an impression why I had no other choice but to bike back.

I felt that I needed to. It was simply glorious. The Black Forest to my left and with a sugar coating and at the valley bottom I was heading into a pretty stiff wind, but the blue sky and pleasant surroundings more than made up for that. I passed tons of places that I knew quite well - stopped in a bakery to load up on some badly needed calories and simply enjoyed the time that I had left.

I rolled through Offenburg, trying to avoid people as best as I ocould and took some detours to do so. Then I was really back on home turf. See the picture above for a view of the valley that I grew up in. For those familiar with the area, this is not far from Ortenberg along the Kinzig. A place where I had done a good amount of running. Taking a few moments more I then headed to Gengenbach, again avoiding people as best as I could. I had planned to surprise my mother who still thought that I would be coming back a week later.

The final stretch was emotional to say the least. Many, many scenes of the last 10 months went through my head from the early moments when I set out until the very end when I ended up at the Yellow Sea. I wanted to capture those moments and was almost dreading to finish up the trip by placing the few pedalstrokes that were necessary to cover the short distance. On the other hand I was - as was the case so often - sucked into covering said distance. So, for a while I just sat there at the bank of the river … and then moved on.

The first welcome happened at the place of friends where I also saw my father and my sister for the first time in 10 months. And then we all headed to town where my mother was working at the time. And who was the reason that I had been playing a hiding game. And she still had no idea apparently. Take a look, this is her in the background.

After a while with too many familiar faces milling about my sister finally told her to take a look around and her face was absolutely priceless. She had no idea - supposed that something had been up in the air, but hadn’t guessed that one apparently.

And this is one of my nieces.

This all happened at the Gengenbach Christmas market, also characterized by one of the largest advent calendars.

This is it. The end of the trip. No more biking 110km or more. Sometimes it was less, but my guess is that this was the average. Maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. But it isn’t the end of the journey. While I have now reached the end of the trip and brought things (sort of) full circle, it will take a while to muddle through all the things that have happened. And while I am now no longer cycling, there will be an occasional entry on this blog. I have a good number of pictures I would like to stitch and I will post some of them here and put them up on the flickr page. Or post the date for an eventual slide show presentation (wherever that may be) or a photo exhibition that is in the offing.

One of the most important motivators of the trip has been the readership of this blog and so, once again, a big thank you to you.

 Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and all the best for the upcoming New Year.

December 13, 2008   2 Comments

Day 264 (Germany): Heidelberg (good times with good friends)

After the 2 hour sleep last night, I slept like a stone. For more than 10 hours. I was out like a light, never heard Michi leave and come back again. It was much needed though too. But it was a strange feeling waking up here in the town that I had lived in for over three years. But it was time to head out soon enough as I was going to meet a great number of people over the course of the day.

First off, brunch with Nicola in Heidelberg’s “Extrablatt” (I understand there are now two of these, but we opted for the established one), a reminder of good long brunches on Sunday mornings. Yum stuff and tons of Nutella to boot. This time it went extremely well with croissants. Had a blast of a time not only with Nicola over brunch, but also with Dominic, a fellow YFU alumnus (so is Nicola). See below for a picture of Nicola and no, this is not Dominic, but we took the picture while strolling down Heidelberg’s main street.


This was followed by lunch with Ramin and Jakob, former colleagues of mine at the Max Planck Institute here in Heidelberg. If nothing else told me that life here was expensive (this may be a question of perspective I admit and mine will soon adjust I am sure), but consider this: simply for taking the bus from the center of Heidelberg to get to one of the university’s campuses cost me more than many a day in China (the ticket for the bus was a hefty 2,10 EUR) cycling my way through three meals and plenty of drinks, sometimes including sleeping quarters. But back to lunch. It was simply great hanging out with people I hadn’t seen for a while and sharing stories over breakfast and lunch. Also imagine me being fully stuffed at the end of this day as well as I was pretty much eating non-stop.

And it was far from over. It just so happened that the Max Planck Institute held its Christmas celebration today and I was invited to join the fun …



Another great round of talking to people I hadn’t had the chance to meet for a long, long time. And for inducing stares of disbelief in my presence. That was fun too. Walking back to Michi’s place (I needed to catch up on sleep badly and turned in earlier than usual), I passed the Neckar with a view of the castle and parts of the old city. Strange reminder of things past. But at the same time a reminder of things to come. And very much looking forward to it.

December 12, 2008   No Comments

Day 263 (Germany): Frankfurt - Heidelberg (a sort of homecoming)

daily distance: 90km
total distance: 15,494km
riding time: 4h

The night was way short … way too short. As I mentioned yesterday, I went to bed at 1pm or thereabouts. At 2:49am I was sitting upright in bed and couldn’t sleep any longer. I tried for a bit, but then gave up. And because I couldn’t concentrate on a book I turned on the computer which was conveniently located in the room that I was sleeping in and stayed online for the next few hours until Sandra and Stephan woke up. Crazy stuff I know, but lying around didn’t seem like a good thing either. I tried to keep myself occupied and the computer seemed to be a good way to do that. Plus, the view from Stephan’s room is absolutely amazing (he admits that the view prolonged his submitting his Ph.D. and I can see why).

At the usual hour Sandra and Stephan went back to being judges and I had breakfast with Maike, another Frankfurt friend - including the much-desired Bretzel and Nutella combination. Yummy!!!

This was followed by the first flat on this entire trip. Here you go … 15,404 km over the rough roads that Turkmenistan has to offer or the non-roads in parts of Tajikistan and then you come to Germany and you get the first flat tire. What happened was that the valve probably gave up on the plane. After pumping the tire up last night I found out that the tire was flat when I put the bike down. We quickly found a bike store and I replaced the tube (it was the valve) … and then set out.

And then … out of Frankfurt and further on south. I didn’t leave Frankfurt until 1pm which meant that it would be a close call to make it to Heidelberg, my destination for today. Back in German traffic. It was rather relaxing … cars actually paid attention to cyclists, weren’t completely crazy about where to squeeze themselves into and … most importantly for me … didn’t honk when they overtook you. The weather was largely bad and cold, light rain or snow for the most part. But a beauty of a tailwind almost the entire way. And it was good to be back on the bike. Really nice.

Covered mileage on to Heidelberg and when it got dark approaching Weinheim I decided that it would be better to cover the last part by tram. But as luck would have it, the next tram was an old one where I couldn’t really put my bike into and so I decided to do the last part under my own steam. Which was a lot of fun and a sort of homecoming. Schriesheim, Dossenheim, Handschuhsheim (I used to live there) and a nice reminder of the many times that I ran and biked in that area. The place drew me in rapidly and soon enough I entered my former work place to meet up with some friends. And was met by former colleagues, one of whom was wonderfully caring when she said: “I followed the tour all along and was was worried when I didn’t hear anything for a few days.”

Spent the night at Michi’s place and sort of came full circle. I stayed with Ina and Michi already in Basle on my second day … but I was shot at night. So shot as a matter of fact that I almost fell asleep over dinner.

December 11, 2008   No Comments

Day 262 (China / Germany): Beijing - Frankfurt (one less bicycle in Beijing and you can do this in 10h instead of 10 months)

My apologies for the late posting of these last blog entries. There are a couple of reasons for this: my mother had no idea that I was flying to Germany a week earlier than I had told her and thus the surprise wouldn’t have been one. Now that I have been back for a few days, it seems that I have been putting off the blog entry of this particular day as I was shying away from closing this chapter. Well, it’s not really closed I know, but …

As I woke up this morning in Beijing, I knew right away that this was it. I would fly back to Germany today. The tour was now going to come to an end. It has been like this in fits and starts, but flying back is a pretty big step in the process I suppose. What happens on these days is pretty automatic I suppose. You pack up the rest of your things, you leave those things behind that you don’t think you need, you get a taxi, you hop on a plane, everything is driving you at this point and you are no longer in control of things. I guess that will be one of the biggest changes. During the tour I could pretty much do what I wanted, had the liberty to decide to go or not to go, stop or not to stop, turn my wheels this way or that. Not so much any more.

But this wouldn’t be China if things didn’t turn out to be at least a little bit complicated. Packed up the rest of my things and left this behind.

Matthias had organized a driver to get me to the airport and when I saw the car I was a bit shocked. This was not Matze’s fault at all, but they came with a small car. The driver was all: “Sure, we can fit things in here and so on.” Not so fast. In the end and after some discussion they got the minivan that Matze had ordered (yes, we will pay the extra for it, no worries) and we were on our way. Not without saying goodbye to Matze who screamed in by taxi to see me off. I was glad to have company in the process - it was extremely relaxing to know that if things were to go wrong at the airport that I wouldn’t just have to leave the bike behind. Thanks, G.!!!

On the ride to the airport, I had another reality flash. This really was it!!! Hard to say what went through my head during the ride, but it weren’t the most untroubled thoughts for sure. Now, at the airport it was all about getting this bad boy onto the plane. I had prepared as much as possible. Remember I got six different answers from Air China, ranging from: “No problem.” to “Bikes are not allowed.” with “1kg over 20kg will cost you 40EUR.” In the end I had written the German office of Air China and had gotten confirmation from them that all would be well until 30kg, including a bike box. A printout came along and then … I got in line, the guy asks me about the luggage and I point to the box. His eyes go wide. “What is this? A TV?” Nevermind that I hadn’t watched much TV as of late, but: “No, a bicycle.” Quick answer: “No problem, just put it on the scale.” I did and knew it would be just at 30kg and then things moved along nicely. We packed things up, threw a couple of more kgs into the box before taping it shut and having the white plastic bands attached and then left it at the oversize luggage counter. Easy enough.

And then the waiting game starts … here you go (and yes, it is a Starbucks cup with very yummy hot chocolate inside).

Then it was time to bid farewell and hit the little skytrain that would get me to the terminal. This now was super-eerie land. I felt entirely out of place. Once in the terminal (you go through security where you rate the border agents with four buttons - I gave mine a double thumbs up), there was this strange rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fare from the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album. A melancholic song for those not familiar with it. I saw the usual crowd of laptop carrying and shiny, latest generation cell phone clad people milling around and felt - of all places - rather lonesome. It seems to happen more in places with crowds rather than in the deserts of Central Asia or Western China. It was right here where a deep void seemed to be opening up in front of me as I was heading down the gangway to board the plane. And which only widened the longer the flight lasted.

And then you sit there and can not help but reminisce over the last 10 months. And I won’t go into this. But you also think that it is pretty perverse that you can fly back to the place you started (at least sort of) within 10 hours. And no, you don’t need 10 months for that. But, on the other hand - I wouldn’t trade the experiences over the last 10 months at all. Not at all.

Fast forward to the tarmac in Frankfurt. We were taxiing towards the gate. Melancholy was washing over me and was starting to take control. Nope, I decided. This was not going to happen. I resolved that the next few weeks were going to be exciting in their own right and I certainly have nothing to complain about. And after waiting for a long, long time for the bike box, it appeared - albeit somewhat hammered up. But all was well and I rolled out of the baggage area. Not without being asked whether I had anything to declare. “No, nothing.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, this is a bike, which I have ridden from Germany to China and there is nothing else in there. Just my equipment. Please don’t make me open the box.” “You did what?” “Yes, I biked there.” “So, the bike is not new?” “Well, that depends on your definition of new.” He smiled and let me out. Had anything happened, Stephan would have been there, a judge at Frankfurt and good friend who was kind enough to pick me up at the airport.

This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I wasn’t alone and couldn’t be drooling all over the place about being back and no longer under way. And there was no reason to be down. Stephan and Sandra are wonderful people and made me feel right at home. Fun stuff that the cab driver was Iranian and joined the conversation as I was telling Stephan about the stolen money in Iran. He felt offended that someone would do this to me and apologized. But also relayed that he plans to do a trip by car or bike to Iran some time soon.

We put the bike back together that night so that I could be heading out the next day (and yes, as Stephan pointed out, there were screws in various places). After long conversations we all turned in, except that I wasn’t able to sleep until 1 am. It was still a strange feeling to be back. And a feeling of uncertainty as to what would happen in the next few days. But that is nothing new.

December 10, 2008   No Comments