In the small village of Dombühl, the train stops, one stop before the stop we had in mind. Olivier quickly looks at the map to find a new camping spot. There is plenty of forest with some small trails, so options galore. From the train we saw threatening clouds, but on the small platform it is dry and we only see a light gray cloud cover. Maybe we'll manage to find a spot before it starts raining, we think. The village is dead, the streets wet and deserted after the last rain. Before we look for a place, we need to fill our water bottles. We cycle past a simple pizza restaurant, completely uncozy, but people are sitting inside. There probably won't be many other options in the village. Zoë grabs the water bottles and goes inside. "Gee, that's cheap here. Seven euros for a pizza," she says with the filled water bottles in hand. We're used to Norwegian pizza prices and there, for seven euros, we just get a pizza point. We almost fall into the temptation to take a whole pizza with us for dinner, but we decide we need to bike for a few days first to earn that. Besides, we got the leftovers from Sigrid's delicious dinner last night.
We cycle out of the village to the edge of the forest. There we turn onto a gravel road and peer left into the forest. There are a few small paths into the forest and we randomly choose one that seems to be little used. After about three hundred meters, the path dead-ends and we find a flat spot to pitch the tent. All around us are birch trees that are still waiting for warmer temperatures to start their leaves. While Zoë sets up the tent, Olivier warms up dinner. We sit down on the ground, fill the plastic bowls with food and look at each other for a moment with broad smiles. How much we have been looking forward to this! A few weeks on an adventure, no stress about English books, moving out of the rental house and storing things. A few weeks where we feel most at home and can unwind. On the bike, in the tent, in nature.
The first week we will follow the Trans Germany Bikepacking trail. The trail crosses Germany from southwest to northeast. We pick up the trail at the village of Dombühl, just south of Nuremberg. From the very first meters, it is clear what awaits us. A beautiful trail with lots of altimeters. The route tries to avoid every road on which a car drives, right over every hill, through the forest as much as possible and preferably small trails. This is how bikepacking should be, only we are not quite equipped for it. In our panniers is a laptop, a copy of our English book, neat clothes for the presentation, Zoë's knitting needles and wild-picking book, an axe and a saw. We are anything but lightweight packed, but our goal is anything but to rack up miles and go out as light as possible. On the contrary, we have a very different goal this time.
After two days, Zoë asks, "What exactly is your goal on this trip?"
"To rest, to enjoy the cycling and camping, to be on the road with no real planning and to learn not to always continue," replies Olivier.
"Fine," says Zoë, "then I want to make a deal. I get to stop six to seven times every day to look at and pick plants."
"Three to four times," counters Olivier.
"Okay, five then," Zoë concludes.
Throughout our trip around the world, our competitiveness has always been our pitfall. A day's goal we always had to achieve, often at the expense of a nice camping spot. A rest day was always indoors with a computer and internet. A slow pace was not in our vocabulary. Only after a year and a half of traveling did we take our first rest day in nature.
Since we live in Norway, we have been trying to slow down more and more on our adventures. Our inspiration is Lars Monsen, a Norwegian adventurer, who on his adventures stays in one place for several days and is so intensely happy there. Since then, Zoë has dreamed of living outside for a whole year.
These three weeks we have no real planning. We have an itinerary, but not a single day's distance that we have to cover. One of the first questions we get from the Germans is how many kilometers we have already done, or how many kilometers the entire trail is. "No idea," we reply, followed by a puzzled German eyebrow.
Wild camping is not allowed in Germany so staying in one place for several days is not so easy. We find the slowing down then in long mornings before we get on our bikes, lunch breaks of over two hours and being happy when we've done thirty kilometers. It's an occasional test of our competitive spirit, but it actually goes surprisingly well. Maybe it is because we are used to the slow life in Norway, maybe we need so much rest after the extremely busy months, maybe longing is a goal in itself that challenges us. Either way, we rest on the bike and in nature.
On one of the evenings in the Black Forest, another cyclist arrives at our camping spot. He looks at us in surprise when we tell him we have been here for a day with the tent. With his bikepacking gear, there is barely room for an extra banana. His surprise becomes even greater when we prepare a lentil stew with herb cheese and fresh vegetables wrapped in tortilla wraps that evening. His own dinner consists of a dried meal that takes up as little space as possible and is as light as possible. With great pleasure, he accepts one wrap and then a second. We may have a lot more luggage, but it gives us so much freedom and the opportunity to slow down. Minimalist travel like David's is also nice, but we would drive too many miles and race past the time we now enjoy so much. We would enjoy staying in nature less and be thinking about our food supply all the time. We are happy how we have been so relaxed these past three weeks and can be proud of ourselves.