We are in the family bungalow at Palmer Ort, on the southern tip of the island of Rugen. The Baltic Sea is less than 100 metres from the window, and we have been watching one storm after another tumble in from the West. We have been sorting trough the photos that we have taken as we cycled across Europe, bringing them down to the essence that will tell our story for a talk we are giving. For the first time, we have been able to view the whole 10,000 Km journey in one go. Even watching the images flick through in iPhoto, it is hard to hold everything in your mind at one time. It is just too big.
One more time I can quote from ‘ The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy ‘, in which there is a fiendish machine called The Total Perspective Vortex. In an instant it shows you the vastness of the cosmos, and then points to your own infinitesimally small place in it, with a sign saying ‘ You Are Here! ‘. A long, slow journey by bicycle gives you a similar view of your place in the world. It is to be recommended, but you will probably not be the person that you were before you left.
Outside our hotel room, either someone is throwing great handfuls of frozen peas at our window, or it is raining very hard. We are ready to leave, and this does nothing to encourage us to venture out of the door. The rain stops, we have the panniers on the bikes and push out onto the road and face west. Ever since we started out from Estonia, we have had a headwind. If you were doing the Baltic States and Poland on there own, only an idiot would do it in this direction. Today the wind is brutal.
The first 11 Km from Ustronie Morskie had to be done on narrow, busy and rather fast roads. Randomly, today everyone is in a good mood and giving us lots of room. All along this part of the Baltic, tourism by bike is being encouraged by the building of bike paths. We can do the final bit into Trzebitow on one of these. Again we have come across a graveyard just short of the town. Broken headstones in languages that include Hebrew, Swedish and French all now brought together. In the town there is a mural of an Elephant from the 17 Century done by someone who I am far from sure had ever seen an Elephant. It is another random and wonderful thing that a journey puts in front of you.
We head on, to the holiday town of Rewal by the Baltic. In the hight of summer it may our worst nightmare, but today most of the B&B’s and hotels have shut up for the season and those that are still open are tucked up in the old town and manage to look inviting enough. There is even a little fishing fleet, with boats photogenically pulled up onto the beach. This close to the German border, many of the hotels are providing Spa treatment to German clients. Number plates starting with B and HH are here in number, and the more expensive restaurants cater for them almost exclusively.
Overnight, what is left of the storm and high winds, blows itself out. We are biking along, and by 10.30 it is already 19’c and a perfect day for cycling. For almost 2 years now we have been unbelievably lucky with the weather. I think that things may be trying to even out after years of cycling in Scotland, and thousands of Kilometres done in miserable weather. We ride on the next day, with Hotels offering Spa treatment averaging out at more than one every 5 Km.
The only thing that stops the chain of development is the final National Park in Poland. Dense Beech Tree forest stretches back from the coast on sandy soil. Some how geology has pushed things together and it presents us with the first real lumpy bits for a very long while. I have almost forgotten that descending at 50 KPH and above requires that you pay attention. It ends just short of the German border, in a small town whose primary purpose is to sell things that in a few kilometres time will be significantly more expensive. There are very few beautiful border towns, and this isn’t one of them. Kiosks stretch down both sides of the road, with people selling cigarets and various junk. Other business models are nothing more complex than a plastic chair to sit on and the pavement to sell from. Tour buses bring in an eager and mostly elderly clients from much of Northern Germany.
So, we have ridden across the Baltic States and now Poland, and have come across places with some very dark recent history. I told Esther about thoughts of Stephen Fry, which goes along the lines of – ‘ If you had a time machine and a gun, would you be morally obliged to shoot Hitler? ‘ We have got ourselves deep into a moral maze by expanding the problem – ‘ If you have a time machine, a gun, but only one bullet. Do you go back and kill Hitler or Stalin?’ For the people of the Baltic you would have to get that one right.
As we enter Ahlbeck we leave Poland and find ourselves in Germany. A lucky thing too, as we have run out of Zloty. Back in Euroland, we can now buy a meal. The full Germanic of red cabbage, meat balls and cake to follow. The cake eaten with a fork designed for that very purpose The Kuchengabel. This is one of the few words that I know, having recently added it to my German vocabulary, which still comes in at less than that of a well trained Alsatian dog. Languages are not my strength.
We continue along the 111 towards Wolgast through a series of Spa Towns that stretch almost continuously along the Baltic coast of Germany. Germans absolutely love a bit of a rub down, followed by coffee and cake and a walk with a sea breeze, and a massive industry caters for them. We could really do with a bit of pampering ourselves, but are far too stingy to book in. We are weary beyond belief, and the closer we come to the end of the project the more weary we feel. It starts to rain heavily, and then even more heavily. What was a dry road is now awash and we stare out at it from the rather poor shelter offered by a tree.
We push the bikes a few hundred metres into the forest and find a place to put the tent up. Our last wild camp and the last night in the tent. A big and very bright full moon projects crazy shadows against the side of the tent. We love wild camps and sleeping with a breeze blowing across you. It may be that the human spirit needs to be outdoors to be at ease. We certainly sleep well. It is certainly a good thing that neither of us gets bored with porridge. It is just 5’c when we climb out of our down bags and prepare breakfast one last time.
Back on the road west, we join the occasional small peloton of tourists all out enjoying this morning’s fine weather. It is an easy day of riding that includes plenty of opportunities for coffee and cake. Things could not be easier and, in a celebratory mood, we take a hotel. The end of our last day on the road, and we are just outside Greifswald. If I look across the water from where I am writing this, it is the town on the mainland opposite. It is a nice town to be in and a nice place to cycle through on an early October morning. The bike path takes us along the river into the town and then we find the 105 out and towards Stralsund.
The trees appear to have turned more Autumnal over night. They form tunnels of brown and red along the B96, the old cobbled road along the coast. Esther can remember being driven in the family Trabant along this road as a child back in communist times, and here we are just about to close our Baltic Loop. We were last here in June and had to push past a kilometre of stationary holiday traffic waiting for the ferry. Today it is much more relaxed.
Onto the island of Rugen for the second time, and within the last kilometres we see the first Red Kite in months. The bird that was with us as we rode up through northern Europe, and it makes a last appearance here. Storks started with us in Portugal and came north as we did, before they gave way to Cranes that have been with us in the height of summer in Sweden and Finland. We came south with the Cranes as they began their migration South and have ended our journey with them.
In total, we have done 9,914 Km and I may round that up to 10,000 as that is easier to remember, and less of an error than many democratic governments get elected on. It is the 1st of October, which is also easy to remember. Within two hours of arriving I am sitting in a dentist chair having lost a big filling to a tasty toffee.
So, for those who are curious, here are a few stats of our travels. Number of nights in a bed 119 ( 37 with friends and family ), nights campground camping 76, and wild camping 36. We have been in 12 countries, if you include 30 minutes that we went into Lichtenstein. It has raised our total mileage for our travels to a total of 27,000 Km, which is impressive enough. We are now getting the bikes and other equipment replaced and renovated, and have this very day sat down to work out how to get the visas that we need for our next project. At the moment, the idea is to fly to Thailand and ride back. It is an absolute minefield of bureaucracy that will try the patience of a saint.