It seems a long time ago. Somehow it IS like another world , another time. And yet, only twelve years have passed. A book review is what started it all off. My girlfriend at the time had to do a book review for school and asked me if I (since i liked to read a lot) would want to do it for her. I agreed of course and pretty soon the book “ Summer seventeen “ was on my night-stand. A book about a seventeen year old boy who bought a bike and went on a solo trip to Santiago de Compostella in Portugal. The story intrigued my .. enchanted me .. enchanted me. As the writer described the rolling hills of Belgium, the golden plain of the French massive and of course the spectacular alps. All by himself the boy cycled through an amazing adventure that was not about the destination .. but about the journey itself.
When I closed the book I remember looking up and saying to myself … This is something I have to do ! Three weeks later I had a holiday coming up and just like that I decided .. I was going to embark on my own journey. True enough Santiago the Compostella was a bit far but a look at the map offered me a very interesting alternative. The coastline in the north of France offered me an interesting route from a possible starting point in the Belgian harbor town of Ostend, all the way down to the French Le Havre, just above the normandic coast. It was may 1995 and the world was mine to explore. So three weeks later I was packed. Borrowing my brothers mountain bike, packed with saddlebags full of clothes and even a tent for emergencies I was of towards the big adventure. Me .. my bike .. and the unknown.
And it where different times. The only peace of technology I had packed into my gear was a walkman and a collection of mixed tapes to form the soundtrack of my adventure. No cellphones, No email, No gps .. Nothing.. Only me… the static hiss of analogue tapes .. music and the great unknown.
And that great unknown came to surprise me everyday , It was in the eyes of every stranger, waiting behind every rolling hill, dancing in the shadows of the morning sun. I remember the second day of my journey that took me from Calais to Boulogne, a 85 km trip along two of the most magnificent cliffs of “la Cote Opale”. “ Vous allez a Boulogne ? “ the old man said when I asked him for directions how to leave the city centre of Calais. “Qui” I replied. “ Sa monte et Sa decent” he chuckled indicating that flat terrain was not going to me on the menu today. As he pointed his crooked finger at the red line on my map indicating “la route de la cote” the first drops of rain drizzled down on the transparent plastic. Half an hour later I had crossed the adjacent town of Sangatte and was faced with a monstrous climb up “ La cape the blanc nez”. As the mist had rolled in from the atlantic the sight was absolutely intimidating. As far as the eye could see there was only the rolling meadows, desolate and deserted, huddled under the cold and wet blanket of the morning fog. Ahead the asphalt road twisted like a slick anaconda into the horizon. Writhing and twisting up and down and left and right in its blackened wetness. At the summit of the enormous mount stood the statue mounted at the top of Cap the Blanc nez. A gigantic black marble speer pointing into the gray abyss of clouds and fog. Defining the very desolate and lonely feeling that crept through my bones. I dug my head into the ground and started pumping the pedals to face this desolate landscape .. alone.
An hour later a speck of blue was to be seen pushing its way up the deserted road , mounting the desolate cliff .. Surrounded by fog and rain. An infinite speck in natures impressive painting. My blue rain-gear had perhaps protected my from the brunt of the rain.. Whatever motivation I had left had been washed out by the pouring rain , or had been blown to shreds by the gail winds of the invisible sea. I stopped. Almost at the summit of the cliff and parked my bike against a shrub. Shoes soaked, feed whet and cold and feeling thirsty yet drenched at the same time.. it was time to take five. I turned around to face distance I had covered and sat down on a rock because I was just about ready to give up. What had I gotten myself into. I was a good 450 kilometers from home. Amid of nowhere, unprepared for what i was facing ( I might as-well have brought a wet-suit to keep me dry) .. feeling cold .. hungry .. soaked and .. miserable. But then the beauty of it all struck me. I was there .. a mer human in a landscape that was devoid of another soul for hours to go. No cars .. no humans .. nothing.. Just the immense landscape.. the fog , the rain , the wind .. and me. And in all its desolate perversion the landscape enchanted me. Letting me feel that it meant to feel small. Sitting there with no means of communication.. No transportation except my trusty bike. An action radius of a 100 kilometers a day .. Totally vulnerable.. isolated and .. absolutely loving it. I sensed the magic of being alive. The sensation of how ones sense of distance expands when technological means of mobility are no longer there. How ones hearing sharpens to detect the sonnet of the faintest seagull on the invisible horizon when there is no Ipod to give you tunes. How one feels in tune with the immediate world around one when modern means of communication are no longer there. At that very moment I felt in awe for the world around me .. and had found an inner peace that has been absent ever since. The raging pulse of the world today … The digital roller-coaster we ride .. the very edge of real and cyberspace .. was nowhere to be seen. I was completely alone.. experiencing the infinite analogue experience of .. being alive on planet earth.