Apart from my bike Emily, my camera has been my most important companion in all those months on the road. This journey has taught me to settle into a much slower, gentler pace than what we are used to in our everyday routines. If I wanted to capture a particular scene with my camera, I took my time, sometimes hours, until I felt that I had finally managed to get the essence of this particular moment, this particular atmosphere.
It is hard to believe that I am back in Berlin these days, starting my self-employment as an author, speaker and photographer, narrating the stories of this cycling expedition. The goal of cycling the next continent is on the horizon, so I am maximally motivated to get things going. Just as last year, I selected 13 of my favorite photos from my journey, one per country I cycled through. 13 moments that meant a lot to me, both while I was taking the photo and now, in hindsight. Ready to follow along for a little mental journey?
First things first: I have a little New Year’s surprise for you. And I am very excited about it! When I first arrived in Thailand, I realized that this is the 12th country I will be exploring solo by bicycle. This felt like a good time to look back on where this journey has taken me so far. The thousands of kilometers, the challenges, the joys, the epic landscapes, stunning culture and the many people whose kindness I will never forget.
This is an ugly post. This is a post that hurt to write. This is a post that made me cry. I wished it had had no reason to be written. But it does. One reason is that I want others to be warned, in particular other women travelling solo. The other reason is that I won’t shut up in the face of perpetrators. I know that it won’t be read by those, rather by the friendly Mongolians who helped me. That is unfortunate. But this should not keep me from being honest. So, in all honesty, here are three aspects of Mongolia, that I am glad to have left behind.
In our everyday lives, most of us have a buffer between life and death, and a comfortably huge one at that. We have insurances, access to a health care system, houses that protect us from thunderstorms, access to clean drinking water and nutritiuous food, neighbors that would hopefully get alarmed if we did not leave our apartments for too long. And still, we seem to feel worried. What if I get cancer? What if there was a substance in this meal that I am allergic to? There is much to worry (and some of it for good reason), but this does not cover the main fact: the buffer between life and death tends to be much bigger than we believe.
(Or: knowing when you’re ready)
First things first: the next leg of my journey is coming up really soon (hopping onto my bike Emily tomorrow)! After a long preparation phase with Kafkaesque struggles, I am finally ready to hit the road again. Well, not a road in the sense most of us know roads. The next two months will see me crossing Mongolia by bike, where the way will be unpaved for large sections, both following GPS coordinates and navigating with my paper maps. I will then continue into Northwestern China, cycle via the Karakorum highway into Pakistan and then onwards to the Indian Himalayas. At least, that is the plan. Plans are as volatile as life (in a good way), but that is the plan I have visas for, at least.
[photos were taken at my winter/spring destinations: Iran, United Arab Emirates, Oman and the Canary Islands]
‘Aren’t you afraid?’ That is one question I get quite often, from friends and family back home as well as from strangers on the road. Am I? The short answer is: No, most of the time, I am not afraid. I trust. That may sound weird at first. I feel that in most of our societies, trust is a rare commodity. We are stingy with our trust. The go-to-mode is to distrust someone first and check whether (s)he is trustworthy before buying in. Better be safe than sorry. My months of cycle-touring up to now have taught me lessons that are quite different from that. And I have started to believe that the world might be a better place, that human communication might become a lot more human indeed, if we changed our perspective on trust. Here are the three lessons I have learned so far: trusting others, trusting yourself and trusting the universe. For me, these make the world shine in a new way.
Everybody faces her fear sooner or later in her life. The real one. The big one. Not the small ones that we believe are so important – be it being humiliated, failing in front of others, showing emotions when we are vulnerable, … These are the kinds of fear we are used to in our everyday lives. No, there is an existential fear that is a completely different matter. It is a fear that teaches you what fear really is. An instinctive fear. A primeval fear. A fear you might feel when you are running for your life. A fear that many of us are only facing when we are on our dying beds. I believed that death would not scare me and maybe it actually doesn’t. Still, leaving alone for the Pamirs, on this wind-swept day, on this empty road, towards those towering mountains, I felt as if I was jumping off a cliff. I decided to trust the universe to catch me. To accept that everything beyond this jump is beyond my control. To hand myself to these mountains and accept whatever the outcome.
This is my first (and likely only) post for which I deliberately use next to none of my photos. I have gigabytes over gigabytes of them, no worries. But they might distract from what I want to say. (plus my internet connection is awfully slow, so I would not be able to post many photos anyways…)
It is Dec 31, the last day of the old year. I am lying in my bed in Bandar Abbas at the Persian Golf, trying to get over an upset stomach, pretty tired and pretty exhausted. But before I vanish to Qezhm island and will likely not have internet access for a while, I wanted to write down some thoughts about being. Just being.