Neunburg vorm Wald
(Maasland to) Werkendam
Am receiving lots of touching messages of condolence and support regarding the news back in England. Concern is also being expressed that our bike trip appears to have been nipped in the bud so soon.
But, as I have said in a number of responses: these paths have lots of twists and turns, don’t they?
Just as life in this form continues for those whose physical and mental sustains, the journey, whilst taking a wholly unanticipated detour, incorporating a lot less pedal action – though the bikes remain our constant companions, even in our rooms overnight (they don’t snore) – continues.
The door to our previous flat wasn’t just closed for the time being as we left it behind at the end of June, but locked. This was about pursuing a way of life we had worked hard towards for over two years.
Our life was to be lived experiencing the world as viscerally and unmediatedly as possible; working our way around the globe without any specific geographical goals; just following our hearts – both our own and those that pulled them.
I guess, ultimately, we saw ourselves as travelling from A to A, i.e., returning to Poland to embark on our permaculture, eco-project; employing anything that we had learnt along the way. But, just as the route would be the right one, taking us the right way when it felt right, our time of return would also be determined as and when it felt right.
And none of that has changed. The verbs in those previous three paragraphs are all still present (except the one about locking the door: that’s still locked).
Now we are travelling the way that is right, because it feels right: it is just one more twist and turn on this journey, which is just life by any other name – life lived with and on a bike.
Nothing changes. Everything changes. Life goes on.
The journey continues (for all of us).
But, again, to emphasise, as this is the point where I came in: those messages of support and sympathy have been overwhelmingly touching. Thank you: I love you all.
Peace and love is the most precious thing; we know this, we feel it, and its preciousness is heightened and intensified by its absence; so hold onto it, give it, share it, every moment, as much as you can: make the world a better place.
Peace and love.
11:40am. Back at Nürnberg Main Station after a pleasant enough night at a typical, neat, functional travellers’ overnight hotel. €96 for a double room and breakfast, but you can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep sometimes, especially in situations that are maybe draining on you in other ways; and the area around the Main Station at 1am on a Saturday evening was full of the usual casualties and suspects, so, despite there being a visible police presence, I doubt we’d have got much in the way of a peaceful night’s sleep between us; and the standard over-indulgent hotel breakfast will stand us in good stead, particularly after our day of empty food and spontaneity yesterday.
We made almost 500k, though: not bad when you consider it took us over 60 minutes to find a way to get out of Vienna, let alone finding ourselves in Germany on a Sunny Sunday morn’.
Just over 800k to Calais now: will probably be a stretch to reach there today, so I think we’d be happy if we cover a pretty similar distance, which would leave us with an overnight within spitting distance of it – and the ferry.
We’d still have 300k from Dover, which is no small thing, but given the fact we’d be on the right patch of land, and the one upon which I roamed for almost 30 years, it would already feel like job done; though I’ve got to say I like the idea of cycling there less than the idea of anywhere in the world – now why would that be, especially as that’s where I spent a childhood nurturing my love of bike-rides?
“Introduce a little variety.”
Never ones to allow things to get stale, we now find ourselves on our second, of what promises to be who-knows-how-many trains to, well, ultimately Calais; then, from Calais, to Dover
… by ferry
Since Thursday a new, not entirely unexpected, but not the less unpleasant for that, sense of drama and emotion has been injected into the mix.
On an already emotionally tumultuous morning, whose occurrence feels spooky with hindsight, as the Czech/Austrian border lay less than 150 metres from me, the phone rang.
Twenty-nine months after the first phone-call, when I began the process of grieving the essence of my mum, the moment her fighting physical form gave signs of resignation towards maintaining itself.
According to my sister, it could be as little as 24 hours.
This is the kind of information you feel you should be able to do something with. On a bike between two countries you have never called home, with nothing any longer like a home in the traditional bricks and mortar sense lying anywhere, with all that we own packed into the panniers attached to the only other concrete material things we possess, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or what I could do.
I knew that I had to get to England as soon as possible, for as long as necessary. I knew that I was in no situation at all to be able to drop everything, pause life here and fly there. This just wasn’t possible. The only option, which I guess made it a kind of solution, was to keep moving forward, play it by ear and cross the most appropriate bridge when the river presents itself.
On we went.
Having been put in touch with them through something of a European middleman for permaculture projects and eco-communities, Benjamin Smit – thank you Benjamin, and then checking out their online profile as nomadic souls who had met somewhere along their paths, settled down, and retained and developed their free-living spirit, I had been looking forward to meeting our hosts for the evening, Lisa and Joey. Different people, likeminded souls. It would be a shame if I couldn’t fully engage with my present due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But what will be will be: it will just be a question of paying respect to both moments as far as is possible.
We arrived in Mailberg, and what a beautiful warm welcome from the abundance of life in their home – from flora to fauna.
The ride to Vienna was beautiful indeed; from the simply functional exactly-what-the-doctor-ordered breakfast; to the climbing up to greet the Alps; to the exciting descents, and the tailwind-assisted roll into Vienna; to sharing the way with the impressive Danube – wow! impressively set and impressive in size, and a great cycle path alongside it to enjoy it: you can certainly feel how Vienna came to be such an economic and political powerhouse with such a river to service its settlers.
And the arrival came. Another welcoming us as a friend, as we slung our things inside her cool tenement apartment in the heart of the city.
The evening was kept simple with a couple of beers at a Hofbrau place just a hop and a skip from the flat. Then bed beckoned: the blow-up mattresses serving us indoors as well as out.
As the morning opened up to let us in
a beep from my phone.
About a day and a half from the call came the text to confirm the feeling:
mum’s body had passed.
The river was here, but no bridge to be seen: you just look where you want to be and build it yourself.
England? From Vienna? Where will A stop? When are the flights? really infrequently; like two times a week; and we really can’t hang on, indefinite in time, waiting for the time the body’s cleared for the funeral.
Make our way to Bratislava. By the time we get there – 24 hours, we may know more. I can fly; A can stay and … or maybe steadily creep back to Poland’s door, where we can kick our heels while waiting for the call.
Yes, a plan.
Vienna we enjoy as best we can, with a semblance of normality; and, to be honest, the powerful architecture did its job turning introspection into admiration. But with emotions so high, through this and through that, we tired soon and thoughts turned to food and beer.
A meal was cooked, and beer was drunk,
and a chilled evening smoothed edges,
and a hazy sleep came and welcomed me in
Making films out of childhood heroes.
I awoke feeling smooth,
until a little jar jagged
and all that was gone was returned.
And my partner in time echoed my mind
We’re going to England together.
The journey we’re on is always the one
We go where it takes us together.
The form may now change
as time rears its essence,
but it’s on the same path we set out.
We set out June 30.
Since then, more than ever
Plans became plots
that circumstance chose to deny
turned to Bratislava
Pausing our journey together
We continue along united
Together from here to there
And here was Vienna
and there is England
with who-knows-what in between?
And ferries and riding
with all that we have
Nomadic, with a geographical purpose.
Part of the journey
that makes up a life
Negotiating unforeseen corners
Respecting the life that passed in the night
to share in the love of close family
My partner in time beside me
The way that our path has to take
And feelings so right can’t be wrong
We can all make plans and prepare, but life has to be lived as it is experienced; not as an idea on a piece of paper.
As we set off to a club from our separate lives back in the Spring of 2000 till we closed the doors on our flat in Kraków, we’ve been journeying together one way or another.
This is just a little more overt in nature.
Now we carry all that we have
One place to the next
Sharing the life that we share
And this takes us there
And that brought us here
And onwards our little trip goes
22:27. We are on train number #4 from Plattling to Regensberg, where we hope to catch a connection to Nürnberg, which is due to arrive at 1am. It looks like we’ll be stuck there until morning, so a rough night in and around the station in prospect, but this is just another tale in a relationship involving some less than conventional travelling arrangements; though having the bikes with us (of course!), but as stationary baggage rather than baggage-and-person steeds, takes this out of the Planes, Trains and Automobiles category into some kind of challenge.
But we’re good at this – I think all humans are: our flexibility and our adaptability are two of our key strengths as a species. While many may fear being plunged into the unknown and having to constantly think on their feet to get from here to where they think they’d like to be, I think this is actually where the vast majority of us shine and thrive and feel alive live live.
Maybe that’s why we set out to do what we’re doing; and why this step needs to be seen as it is: as just another part of the journey, which will become part of the narrative; part of the lives.
Not that it really matters how it’s seen, in terms of a picture. It will, however, be a piece, and though, like all of the pieces, it will stand on its own with life of its own, without it, the space that will be left, the hole that will remain, will forever diminish the value of anything coming thereafter.
As you honour the past that allowed you to be, to lend love and support to significant others, all that speaks to me is love, though not in the abstract I share and feel every day, but in the visceral way that can sometimes burn, can sometimes sting, but is the love come of blood that is life.
And we go to celebrate and honour it – as we should and as we want.
I love you mum x