After a number of bike trips almost entirely done solo, I have become accustomed to doing things my way. When traveling alone, there’s no need to wait for anyone or to make compromises. The more this has become a habit, the more hesitant I’ve been to allow others to join me. I would never commit to a long trip with someone without trying it out first. Sharing the road temporarily with a tourer I meet along the way is much easier, because we both have our own gear and can separate again at any time.
I met Isabelle towards the end of my stay in Germany. She's a freckle-faced blue-eyed adventurer who rarely stops talking. Kira is the quieter one, usually sitting behind in her trailer smelling the world go past. Although I had many doubts about whether it would work, we’re getting along quite nicely. We complement each other well. She is fearless in all the ways that I am not, asking people for help and knocking on doors when campsites are unavailable, whereas I’m more at ease with dark forests and some other aspects of touring life.
This became evident early on. Close to the town of Papenburg in West Germany, we were surrounded by wide open farmland with animal fences, which isn’t exactly great for camping. We were wet and cold from the rain, and the sun was setting. My strategy of dealing with the situation was to stare at my phone screen looking at Google Maps satellite images for some trees to hide our tents, while Isabelle was looking at the windows of farmhouses for any friendly people returning a smile and a wave.
I was all proud about finding a forest only two kilometres away, but she was already chatting (without a common language) to the family living in the second house we passed. They did seem suspicious at first, but eventually we were led to the empty barn, safe from the weather. We made our beds on the straw and were invited to the house for evening tea before going to sleep.
In all the years I’ve travelled, I have literally never done this kind of thing. Since starting in June I had slept in a tent for four months straight. I was quite impressed.
And there was more. A couple days later, on October (cough)th, it happened to be my birthday. I don’t like to be the centre of attention, so rarely tell people when this occurs. But I had to explain why I was in no mood for pasta and tuna, and wanted to eat something special that day. I told my new travel companion not to make a big deal out of it. She said sure, and then proceeded to tell everyone we met.
In the late afternoon we came to an idyllic little town called Sellingen in the Netherlands. While shopping for barbecue goodies and pancake materials, a man who looked like the owner of the store asked if we are on holiday. Paraphrasing Isabelle's usual cheerful self: “Hi! We are cyclists! We come from Scandinavia! I am so cute! I have a dog! We have no place to camp! It’s his birthday!”
The man made a couple phone calls in Dutch and explained that the camping grounds were closed, but he arranged a place for us in one of them anyway. The owners would pick us up shortly, and we could wait in their son’s bar/cafe in the meanwhile. We went there, heads spinning from the helpfulness, and the bar owner walked over to shake my hand, “First of all, happy birthday!”
Everyone continued to be super friendly and we got free drinks while we waited, and I received a heartwarming video call from my brother and niece back home. So all in all, it was an excellent day already. Then the camping ground owners showed up, a hippy-looking couple with bright eyes and that look of joyful wisdom that people have when they’ve lived right and aged well.
We were led to a quiet place in the woods, a camping ground with plenty of space. The woman explained they could fit 60 people but only took in 15 because everyone deserved their space and privacy in nature. After some of the claustrophobic caravan clusters I saw in Germany, this principle sounded just heavenly. Since we were the only ones there, they gave us the use of a cabin and showers, free of charge. It was my birthday, after all.
Amazing. We spent the evening high on life, cooking pork steaks and chicken fillet with salad and cheese-stuffed grilled paprikas. We drank wine by the fireplace while sharing stories of our adventures. There were even actual beds to sleep in. Kira snuggled up next to me, then started snoring with the volume of a much larger dog.
I won’t soon forget the generosity of the people in Sellingen. And it turns out that touring with company isn’t so bad either.