We made it guys.
For the last month since the 17th of April I have been taking part of the ROOF - Routes of our Future, Cycle Through Europe project sponsored by Erasmus+ with the purpose of promoting voting in the upcoming European Elections.
It was a very spontaneous decision to join this exchange, I heard about it and it took me less than 24 hours to do what I needed to do and send in my application.
After a few hard weeks of work, some nervosity and a ton of excitement I went to Malmö early in the morning of the 17th not knowing what to expect, unsure if I could make it all the way to Prague from Malmö by bike cycling over 1000 kilometers.
The Swedish team was composed of myself, a fellow Swede named Jeanette with a wonderful sense of humor and great care for people, a South African with the most amazing sense of wonder and interest in the people around him named Tristan, a proud Russian man who is nothing less than a fantastic videographer and interesting person who knows his way around sobietski my man Dmitry and a man originating from France with great pride, integrity and confidence in the things he believes in and who has saved my bum more than once named Marwan.
The first few days in Malmö were exciting, meeting all these new people that during the time of the project would become my friends for life.
The German team, composed of team leader Jan, Hannah, Julian, Can/Fabian and Sebastian.
The Croatians, team leader Dario, Kruno, Karlo, Fran and Martin.
The Hungarians, team leader Melissza, Aron, Gábor, Andras, and an undercover Frenchman named Leo.
And yes, of course, our wonderful saviours on the road, Claudia and Francesco.
We started our exchange by getting to see our bikes, the glorious Triumph Tornado. If all goes well there should be at least one picture of it in this post. Never have I ever rode a bike quite like it. 😍
Of course, since we were in Sweden it was my obligation as a good samaritan to introduce my new foreign friends to the wonders of Swedish delicacies. Me and Jeanette searched far and wide to find the best Swedish cuisine has to offer.
What better way to do teambuilding is there than treating unsuspecting people to some rotten fish? It was a massive success, and Swedish fish became an icon for us in Team North.
I got to freshen up on my EU-knowledge and we started going around the city handing out papers and getting ready for the big adventure to start.
Skip to Friday 19/04.
Our first day of biking.
We were gonna do 73 kilometers from Malmö to Helsingborg and the spirit of the people was just wonderful. We started going. And going. And going. It was the first time I had done anything like it and it was a pretty foreign experience. But with everyone around me being encouraging, excited and me being determined to finish this no matter what I pushed on through the pain of my terrible cardiovascular efficiency and my undisciplined mind.
It took a very long time.
We went along the coastline and it was a really wonderful way to start the project off even though I immediately felt like I might be in over my head when I had to walk up hills and was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day.
We stayed for a day in Helsingborg and we immediately became more familiar with each other, we had a lovely barbecue which was a lifesaver for me because the vegetarian food turned out to be slightly less than optimal for me, we met the one and only sobietski and I accidentally opened a strange tube of soap that ended up leaking all over the sink. (Don't tell my roommates!) The Croatian team leader Dario took us on a wonderful tour of the city, where I got to see stuff like "Old building made of bricks" and "A big tower".
We started a thing I would not want to have been without called highlights and lowlights where everyone got a moment to share their best experience and worst experience of the day to everyone else. (Thanks Tristan)
Entering Danegerous territory.
We went on the ferry from Helsingborg to Helsingør and we entered Denmark. But a few hundred meters from the ferry we have our first fall. F*cking Denmark.
We had an absolutely wonderful ride along the coastline of eastern Denmark going towards Kobenhavn seeing everything in a new light and I must admit, that for a mere second I was considering that maybe, m a y b e Denmark was not as horrible as our Swedish pride would suggest.
Copenhagen was a lovely experience, I bought my first out of very few beers in a supermarket and I got to spend some time with the Croatians, walking down the streets of Copenhagen, eating a pizza with potatoes on it (???) And having a wonderful time.
Copenhagen to Haslev.
The first day I believe everyone got really exhausted.
It was 80 kilometers which wasnt that dramatic but crew morale was a little low (always goes down in the beginning and bounces back when people see what they're capable of), there were some unpleasant winds, it was very flat and we had had some less than optimal sleep.
I started getting to know all the people a lot better and we had a lot of fun together making food and fearing the next day.
110 kilometers, the longest day of our entire project.
Waking up in the morning we had a quick breakfast and pulled our bikes out for another lovely day of cycling.
What we didnt know at the time was that during the 110 kilometers we would have 60km/h sidewinds and headwinds for 80-90% of the way. It was brutal, already in the first few kilometers people started to become extremely exhausted (myself included.)
We reached our lunch spot with barely any energy left, sat down on the asphalt behind a supermarket and slowly ate our lunch. At this point I was so visibly tired that I got the suggestion to go in the van. I was very close to accept the offer but I couldnt bring myself to stop halfway through on the biggest day of our entire project when the only thing stopping me was my mind.
We kept on going and slowly but surely, we reached Gedser.
This day would be talked about continuously during the rest of the project due to what an extreme challenge it was and what an extreme accomplishment finishing the route was for us.
We had some really good pizza and while eating all we did was stare into the walls and laugh about everything and nothing.
Germany, Eastern Germany.
With but a nights sleep it was time to go 75 kilometers from Gedser to a place called Krakow Am See. Landed in Rostock with the ferry and went through the first of many fields and interesting roads of eastern Germany.
We reached Krakow Am See.
Krakow Am See was a special experience because it wasnt quite a hostel or hotel, more like a luxury holiday resort. They had goats, cold water to dive in, double beds, wonderful bathrooms and a massive, wonderful dinner (with meat!) We had a fantastic evening and as I recollect this is when we all started coming together as a team, settling in our roles, having a survivor story to discuss (Haslev-Gedser) and feeling more and more comfortable with each other.
After the best nights sleep of our trip we set off from Krakow Am See to go to Neustrelitz, a route of 90 kilometers.
I felt revitalized after Krakow, suddenly i could take the big hills no problem. I got a deeper understanding of how to use my bike and I was absolutely shocked at how my performance had changed so massively overnight.
We took some off roads and found ourselves in the middle of a potato field. There's a video of me describing this experience somewhere out there.
We reached Neustrelitz, rode around the square and showed our colors, we even made the local newspaper! We went to a café and I had something magnificent the Italians werent too keen on called spaghetti ice cream. I loved going into the local stores and just seeing how different everything was from Sweden. (3 euroes!)
We had a meeting with a class of students in a facility/museum for sustainable energy. We were supposed to present to them our project and the European Solidarity Corps. The presentation went well and we were put in smaller groups to discuss with the students the opportunities of projects, exchanges, EVS. They were less than keen.
My strength was increasing, our strength as a team was increasing, everything was going incredibly and aside from a little bit of rain these were our first easy 100km.
The next day we took an off day to visit the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, a strange and powerful experience for everyone involved.
The trip to Berlin.
A meager 45 kilometers, it was no problem for us at this point and we rolled into the capital of Germany with big smiles and big expectations.
Three "rest days"
We visited Myfest, tried to replace our dirty clothes with second hand close with no success, had an incredible experience best left to the private messages and just enjoyed ourselves immensely.
The routes became a little bit improvised here so its hard to give an exact number, it was flat, the roads were long, we went at incredible speeds, overall easy day.
Nothing special, just a sweet ride.
We reached the river Elbe, a river we would go along for the rest of our journey. Finally we got away from the completely flat and mind numbing roads and started seeing some hills, everyone was ecstatic about the scenery and we performed even better than usual.
So close to Prague, such beautiful scenery. Mental powers starting to distinguish but bicycling is second nature at this point so I just continue pedaling. On our way we make a stop in the absolutely stunning city of Meißen that truly has to be seen to be believed. We had some Indian food that was more boney than I am used to and a really interesting Indian drink. Reaching Dresden was incredible because we were so close to the Czech Republic.
Dresden-Usti Nad Labem
Finally approaching the Czech Republic, had LIDL lunch right on the border. Rolling into town everything is so different, everyone is laughing and it feels like we're in Prague already. Hotel staff cleaned the wrong room and used our bathroom, Netflix night #2
Usti nad Labem-Theresienstadt
Hanging out in the Czech Republic like kings and queens, only ~25km until we reach our hotel. Hotel happens to be a microbrewery with the most fantastic food I've had all journey, had a massive steak and some weissbier produced right next to me. We went to a very different concentration camp in Terezin.
107 kilometers of crazy roads totalling our poor bicycles, up mountain bike trails and down extreme slopes, everyone fighting like 107 kilometers is nothing reaching our final destination, stop by a nice lake just a few kilometers away and I show everyone the map. After that we went at least 500km/h average into Prague city center.
Prague... Some very sad moments, some very weird moments, some fantastic moments, lots of love and meeting the other teams of beautiful countries and all working together to document everything.
It has truly been life changing, made me the most optimistic person in the world, I've gotten so much love and appreciation from everyone that I can hardly believe its actually possible. The people I met changed my view on people and social situations completely. The struggle has made me so much stronger both physically and mentally, and I love everyone I came in contact with here.
Highlights and lowlights?
There are no lowlights for me. I want to thank everyone involved and I sincerely believe that our efforts were fruitful. Can't wait to see you again and hopefully this time I can refrain from crying like a baby when we leave each other.😂🙏
I was inspired to write this after our final night on the town with a respectable dose of sleep deprivation and there is no way I got even 1% of what this project truly was, so please excuse any confusing sentences or spelling errors and lets get on our bikes and get out of the hostel before the staff goes into our rooms.
Article written by Erik Sternälv. Find the original post in his Facebook.