Monday, 1 April 2013

Plans for 2013

You may be wondering why I have not posted much for quite a while. But right now I am back in Berlin preparing my next trips in 2013 - and that turned out to be more challenging than I expected.

First of all I have a "positive" problem". I have too many trip options to choose from! When I started my "full time hiking career" back in 2007 I was afraid that I would soon run out of ideas. I somewhat expected that I would get bored after a couple of years and would want to go back to work. But the more I hike, cycle and paddle the more ideas I have for future trips.

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when chosing a trip:
  • Exchange rates: For many years now I have spent most of my time in the US or Australia. The Euro had been very strong and the exchange rate favourable. If you can chose between various destinations and all seem equally attractive to you why not go where it is currently cheap? But unfortunately now there is the EURO crisis. Although the US is still sort of affordable, it is not really cheap any more for Europeans. And Australia and New Zealand is completely out of the question right now. So why not stay in Europe? I have always travelled with the exchange rate and so now seems to be the time for Europe. 
  • Diversification: I started out as a hiker and then slowly diversified into cycling and paddling. One of the reasons for the diversification was to reduce the risk of injury - and to avoid getting bored. When I came back from the Mississippi I was all stoked about paddling and wanted to do another long paddling trip soon. But for months after the end of my paddling trip I was still suffering from a paddling injury: I had overstrained my fingers and was suffering from a stiff middle finger. This seems to be a common paddling injury as all fellow Mississippi kayakers suffer from it as well. Although the pain is gone now I decided to give it a rest for a year. On the other hand I have not done a cycling trip for over 2 years - so I guess it is time to cycle again.
  • Finding new challenges: On each trip I try to do something new and learn something more. I am not always successful, but through trial and error I have expanded my outdoor knowledge. Not every trip turns out to be great, but I have always learned something. One of my last experiments had been a 5 week winter hike in the US and to my big surprise I had liked it a lot. I want to deepen that experience and do an even longer moderate fall/winter hike this year.
  • Learn from experience: 2012 had been a great year for me. I had enjoyed my 6 months hike across Western Europe tremendously - but I had sort of spoilt this very positive experience with constant time pressure. I had to finish the hike at a certain time to start my next adventure - with a flight already booked and a trip partner waiting for me. I do not want to commit the same mistake again: My next trips have to be open end. Also 2012 had been a physically demanding year. If you live outdoors almost permanently you cannot ask your body to always perform 100+%. You need a rest. You have to take it easy sometimes. 2012 had been a great year, but not an easy one. 2013 has to be more relaxing. 
Through all these factors I came to the following conclusion: I want to do something in Europe. I do not want to go paddling again this year, but instead do at least a bit of cycling. I do want to do a trip that lasts into fall and winter. I do not want a trip with time constraints for whatever reason like having to catch a flight or a season closing in on me. And I want something relaxing, although my definition of relaxing outdoor activities might differ a lot from most people's.....

Still, all that left plenty of options and I had a hard time deciding, but this is the result:

May 2013: I will visit my friend and former cycling partner John again who lives on a narrow boat on the British canals. I have last seen him in 2011 and had a fantastic time on the boat. This will give me the opportunity to continue my trip research and be a domestic goddess again cooking three course dinners for the two of us.

June - August 2013: After more than two years it is time for another bike trip. I was deliberating various options like the North Sea Cycle Route but eventually decided to just visit countries I have always wanted to see. In order to facilitate logistics I want to start cycling in Berlin and finish there as well. This way there are no planes to catch, i.e. no time constraints. From Berlin I will cycle up into Denmark first. This is a small country but I am planning to investigate it thoroughly. I am especially attracted by its vast bike trail network and the free designated nature campsites. From there I will continue up into Sweden and then down into Finland. Depending on how much I like it I will cycle all the way or take a short cut with the ferry. From Helsinki I will take the ferry into Tallin and cycle around the Baltic States. I have visited these three tiny countries almost two decades ago and it will be interesting to see how things have changed. If time permits I will cycle back to Berlin through Poland - or just take a ferry from Klaipeda to Germany. Why have I chosen this route? I like the easy free camping with the everyman's right or designated free camping spots. These are countries with lots of bike paths or very little traffic. And I really appreciate the various possibilities of ferry short-cuts relieving me from time constraints. 

September 2013 - January 2014: Hiking is my first and biggest love and I definitely want to do another hiking trip soon expanding the season into fall and winter. In Europe there are not that many options for easy winter hiking and it was a nobrainer for me to settle for Southern France and Southern Spain. Especially since I had enjoyed last year's hike there tremendously. But which route should I take? Several weeks I conversed with hiking friends, studied maps and hiking blogs. Again there were too many interesting options! Maybe the Via de la Plata, another pilgrims' trail that should be deserted in winter? Or some new hiking trails in Portugal,  a country where I have never hiked before?
The breakthrough came through my hiking friend Werner, one of the very few Germans who actually hike long-distance in Europe as well. He posted on a German outdoor internet forum that the E1, a European long-distance trail will be finished all the way up to the North Cape this year. He ended his post with the sentence: "Now the ultimate European hike is possible: Walk from the Southernmost point in Europe, Tarifa in Spain, to the Northernmost point, the North Cape." Of course I was intrigued! I spent half the night researching and found out that the Southernmost point on the European mainland is indeed Tarifa in Spain. I loved the idea to hike across Europe from West to East and North to South. Now I had a goal! Instead of "aimlessly" wandering across Southern France and Spain I would hike from Germany to Tarifa, and one of the following years the second part from Germany to the North Cape. All of a sudden everything made sense and a new hiking idea was born.