As soon as I crossed the border into Germany, things started going downhill.
First there was an unrelenting headwind, which has kept blowing pretty much every day since then. I wanted to stay on the coast to follow the national park, and there wasn't really anything to stop the wind in these flatlands. In many places there was a road on both sides of the dike, and I could choose between a view of the farmland to the west, or the sea to the east.
In both cases, every kilometre or less was interrupted by a sheep fence. I had to unmount, open the gate, get the bike across, and close the gate, all the while trying not to step on too much sheep shit. Sometimes there was so much of it that I could barely see the road underneath. That’s because these animals are idiots and tend to congregate by the fences, even when they have tons of land to roam freely on. After a few days I was getting pretty fed up with the sharply stinging smell of sheep crap and urine blown on my face by the strong gales.
The problem with cycling inland was that I couldn’t really see anything resembling a forest or a place to camp. Everything that wasn’t someone’s home or yard had been turned into farmland. On the coast I was at least able to camp on the hidden side of the dike, sometimes even finding a place without sheep. Since this probably wasn’t allowed, I had to pitch my tent at dusk and leave at dawn, to avoid being seen. Feeling like a skulking criminal, just because I want to sleep outside without leaving any trace, made me sad. I now have all the more appreciation for the free camping rights of Scandinavia and Finland.
The air was always covered in a haze. At first I thought it was just fog, but even on a sunny day I couldn't see far into the horizon. There was a smoky smell. I wasn't sure if pollution in Germany really is so visibly bad, or whether this was a remnant of the forest fires in Spain a month or two before.
Through the pedals I started to feel a slight vibration that suggested something might be wrong. The next day it got bad enough to hear, as a slight clicking sound, which soon turned into a horrible metallic grinding. The ball bearings in my bottom bracket were done for. Not the kind of thing you want to happen when pushing hard into headwind. I got off to walk the bike, just in case pedalling would cause wider damage.
Near Husum I found a camping ground for the night. The next day I continued to the city to visit a bike shop. The first place I went to said I'd have to replace the entire bottom bracket, the crankset, front cogs, and probably the chain. Right. Luckily in the second shop the mechanic was happy to fix only what was actually broken, and didn't take long to swap the ball bearings.
I also took the time to thoroughly clean the entire drivetrain: cogs, chain, and cassette. I even took apart the small pulley wheels to get every bit of grime out and oiled anything that needed it. The operation made me feel better and the bike was running smoothly again.
At a tourist information office I was given strict orders to not miss the Westerheversand lighthouse. And who am I to disobey a direct mandate? I cycled there to find an almost alien landscape of grassy flatness, with a tall 100-year-old lighthouse sticking out in the middle. It was only a few hundred metres from the sea, but without higher ground, you couldn’t see all the way to the water.
While taking photographs at sunset, I met a couple local girls who turned out to be volunteer workers at the national park. They offered me some space to camp by their hut, right underneath the lighthouse! I’d never experienced a campsite like this before, so it was quite a special treat. I took whatever photos I could, before the rain and thunder chased me into my tent.
In the morning I was invited for breakfast. One of the girls, Annika, said that she had gone touring in Europe with some friends and been helped by strangers so much that now she wanted to pay some of it forward. I know that feeling well. After this trip is over, I’m going to have to work very hard to give back even a fraction of the help I’ve received.