We arrived in Denmark feeling strong after having ridden for several weeks in the mountains of southern Norway, and the fact that Denmark is completely flat only made us feel that much stronger. Sadly, the rain that we had experienced in Norway continued right into Denmark but it's much easier to deal with when the terrain is flat. You don't have to decide between not wearing a jacket on the climbs and getting drenched by the rain or wearing one, overheating and getting drenched by sweat. Nor do you have to deal with freezing on the descents and having the rain drops pelt you so hard in the face you have to squint to the point where you're essentially riding with your eyes closed, following the white lines on the side of the road through eyelash covered slits.
Riding in Denmark was a completely different experience from Norway. The terrain was flat instead of mountainous, the architecture of the houses was primarily brick instead of wood and the land was covered with corn and wheat fields rather than forests, raging rivers and fjords. Aside from having to deal with the rain, cycling there wasn't all that difficult and we put in big miles our first 2 days, eager to arrive to the house of the family of a guy, Mads, we met in northern Norway and get out of the rain.
Unfortunately, Mads wasn't at home as he had already left for University, but his family in Houstrup was more than welcoming towards a couple of disgustingly dirty cyclists. The first 2 days at their house were great. We enjoyed late night drives through the nearby forest to look for Red Deer, afternoon tours of the surrounding areas with a lot of history about the landscapes, people and wildlife of this region and delicious cakes baked almost daily by Mads' brother, Frederik.
Mike and Frederik next to an old fishing hut.
Frederik and one of his delicious Banana Cakes.
On Monday we had the option to either continue cycling in the rain with a 30 mph headwind or drive across Denmark to Copenhagen to drop off Christoffer, one of the sons, at college, spend a day in the city and then resume riding in a couple of days after the weather improved. We opted to go to Copenhagen as we were completely fed up with the rain, but on the way we ran into trouble. Mike's legs suddenly began to cramp, a phenomenon that had happened twice on this trip already, both times in the U.S. after we had taken 2 or 3 days off of cycling. The fact that he never had any troubles during any of our extended stops in either South America or Europe had us believing that whatever nutritional imbalance, muscular imbalance or other issue had caused it had worked itself out. Apparently we were wrong.
What we had hoped would be a relaxing day of walking around Copenhagen ended up being a slow and painful hobble with frequent stops to stretch and try to get his quads to relax, but nothing seemed to work. We returned to Houstrup on Tuesday evening, gave Mike a muscle relaxer which he'd gotten a prescription for in the U.S. after this happened the second time, and packed up our stuff with every intention of leaving the next morning. Well, it turned out that the pills did absolutely nothing for him and being unable to walk normally meant that pedaling a 100-pound bicycle was completely out of the question.
I went into the house and explained our situation to Niels and Lotte. I was upset and worried that we would have to overstay our welcome; these people, afterall, had only met us 3 days earlier and had agreed to let us stay for a night or two, not to have us move in with them. We loved this family from the time we met them; they were kind and fun to be around and without a moment's thought they told us we were welcome to stay for as long as we needed, pointing out that at least this happened while we were there, at a house with a comfortable bed to sleep in, rather than in the middle of the forest. We had to agree with them and guessed that it would be another day or 2 more until Mike was able to ride again given that the other bouts of cramps lasted a total of 4 or 5 days. That turned out not to be the case this time. Every couple of days it seemed as though he was improving so he'd try to walk down the stairs or pedal down the driveway, but both scenarios only left him with completely seized up muscles again. After a week of being crippled and loitering around Niels and Lotte's house in bad spirits we had reached our wits' ends. Our original plan had been to fly out of Germany at the end of September after cycling through Holland and Belgium but time was a-wasting and if we didn't get moving soon we'd be forced to make a bee line to Dusseldorf to catch our plane.
Lotte and I made Mike lunch in bed.
Saturday morning we made the difficult decision to throw in the towel. I hate quitting, feeling defeated, not finishing what I set out to do and I know Mike hates it too, but sometimes you simply don't have alternative options. We never expected our European tour to end like this; it was horribly anti-climactic, but this was the ending that we got. I spent the day on the phone changing our flight dates and locations while Niels worked out which trains we would have to take to get us to Hamburg, Germany, which was now where we'd be flying from. We said our sad good-byes to all of our gear that was completely worn out, unrepairable and would not be making the trip back to the U.S. with us as there was no way it would hold out for another tour. The list included 2 helmets, 1 pair of cycling shoes, 1 pair of shoe insoles, 4 pairs of nylon thickness see-through cycling shorts, 1 pair of knee warmers, 1 t-shirt, 2 pairs of underwear, 1 pair of socks, 3 water bottles, 3 water bottle holders, 1 emergency/too many bugs pee bucket, 1 frying pan, 1 cutting board, 1 stove burner, 2 pens, 2 buttons, 1 fingernail clipper that no longer cut nails, only ripped them and 4 zip-lock bags that have torn and been taped multiple times but I'm thrilled to say have lasted and been used every day since we left California in June of 2010. Not listed here or pictured below are all of the bike parts that no longer work, which included pretty much everything on a bike that moves but we took those things home with us as we have plans to use them for other projects some day in the future.
All of our old gear that got left behind.
We left Niels and Lotte's house Sunday morning and spent the day riding the rails, lugging our bikes and gear onto and off of 6 trains over the course of 8 hours. It was an exhausting day but we were fortunate to meet 2 friendly people, Simon and Luisa, from Hamburg and were invited to stay at Luisa's flat until our flight on Tuesday morning. Monday was spent packing and while Mike stayed at the apartment and disassembled our bikes I was out in the city hunting down bike boxes and necessary packing supplies. It was another long and busy day but by 7pm we were completely packed and ready for the next morning.
Lotte, Frederik, Niels, Mike and Cari.
We are exceptionally grateful towards Niels, Lotte and their 3 sons, Christoffer, Mads and Frederik in Denmark and Simon, Luisa and her flatmate Anne in Germany for helping us out during our final 10 days in Europe. Neither of us were in the best of moods during our stays but thanks to all of your kindness, understading, hospitality and friendship, you made it much less painful and stressful than it would have been.
So here we are, back in California 2 weeks earlier than we had planned. Though I'm sad we had to cancel the last 3 weeks of our trip and missed out on cycling through northwest Germany, Holland and Belgium, the last thing we can be is upset. We did, afterall, spend nearly 6 months in Europe and pedaled just under 7,500 miles through 12 of its countries; it was quite an impressive ride if I do say so myself and there's no doubt that someday we'll return for another tour through all of the countries we missed this time around.
I'm sure many of you are wondering what will come next and the answer is we're not quite sure yet. First and foremost we have to figure out what's going on with Mike's muscles. Two straight weeks of debilitating cramps cannot be normal; perhaps it was just his body's way of telling him that he needed to take a little break for a while. And we will listen as we've learned over the years that the body will always overpower the mind no matter how hard you try. So after 15 amazing months on the road the time has come for a brief intermission. We have decided that we'll remain in the U.S. through the holidays calling the next few months “an intermission to repair our bikes, earn some more traveling money, get healthy again and enjoy time spent with all of our very-much-missed families and friends.”
This is not the end of Life On A Bike; our hearts are not yet ready to quit this adventure and an injury is certainly no way to finish the story. The current plan is to resume riding shortly after Christmas but in the meantime I'll continue to write regularly as we figure out where in the world we'll be heading next, how Mike's legs progress and whatever else I feel moved to write about. Stay tuned.