Lessons Learned while Cycling to the North Cape (and Back)

Today’s guest post is from Bram Reusen, a serial traveller who this summer set off to cycle to Nordkapp in Norway. His tale is a reminder that the best laid plans always go astray – and, when travel is involved, that’s often for the better.

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Usually, I tend to romanticize things. I like that about myself, because it allows me to see the positive side of what I do.

In the past three years I have travelled to four continents and got around using various means of transportation. In order to finance those travels I also spent – and am currently spending – a significant time at home working temporary jobs.

Every time I come home I find that it gets easier to adapt to the routine of the work-week. What never changes, though, is the fact that after a certain amount of time has passed, I get anxious and feel the need to leave again. This usually happens after about a month or two. That’s the moment when I start picking up travel books and guides and begin daydreaming about new and exciting adventures.

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This exact thing happened a year ago. I was reading a book about the world’s greatest journeys and before I knew it, I was thinking about exploring Europe on a bicycle.

For me personally the first stage of planning a new journey is reading. I like myself to be prepared whenever I go somewhere new, wherever I go. It’s important to be aware of potential dangers on the road and to be informed about local customs and habits. One big thing to watch out for when planning is to not over-prepare and kill your journey.

When I decided I was going to cycle to the North Cape in Norway, Europe’s northernmost point, and back home to Belgium, some power work-outs and regular bike rides were my main preparation. I thought that was going to be enough.

Besides trying to make sure that I was at least in basic physical shape, I read. I read books about Scandinavia and blogs about bicycle touring.

I tend to romanticize things.

Whenever I was reading those things I would fantasize about how amazing it was going to be to sleep in a tent in a Swedish forest, cooking food on a wood fire, maybe even catch some fish.

I’m incredibly glad that my mind works like that. I dream about perfection. And that’s what I chase as well. When I go travelling, experiences like that are what I’m after. It keeps me going.

Let’s fast-forward a couple of months.

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It was the end of March 2013 and I was almost ready to leave. I had made sure I had all necessary equipment and I thought I was a pretty decent shape by now. I had worked out a route too, a direction I was going to follow at all times, allowing only a few days to explore a couple of new cities. I was going to cycle all the way there and back again too.

After three days on my bicycle I injured my knees. They hurt so badly that I had to take two days off in the first week. Turned out I wasn’t in proper shape at all. Afterwards I heard from other long-distance cyclists that it’s normal for your body to ache during the first days, as it tries to adapt to a new routine. My knees ached a lot, though.

I also took a train to Hamburg that first week. That wasn’t part of my grand plan at all. That week confirmed a lesson that I had learned a couple years before in Australia: be flexible. Although I’ve always been open-minded and someone who changes his mind a lot, that week was pretty tough. It was hard to deal with having to change my plans this early. It all turned out for the better.

“Because my plans, direction and intention of cycling the whole way had already been abandoned, I might as well do whatever I want now”, I thought.

I never thought of my original itinerary again.

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From then on it was all about seizing opportunities. On a rainy afternoon I drank coffee and ate biscuits with a retired German man. I spent several days strolling through Copenhagen and visiting museums in Stockholm. A Swedish farming family invited me to dinner one night. I broke my rear derailleur halfway through Sweden and had to hitch-hike back into town to get it fixed. I visited Santa Claus on the Arctic Circle in Finland. All of them wonderful experiences, exactly what I was after.

I do have to admit, however, that on my way north I was still extremely focused on getting to the North Cape. Although I didn’t want to skip stuff on the way, there was always this voice in my head telling me to keep moving.

The day/night I reached the North Cape will always be one of the greatest days in my life.

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After that, I felt a sense of relief. Even though I was technically only halfway, I was glad I had made it that far and was certain that the way back would be no problem now. And I was right. Besides getting sick for a week, it was incredibly easy. It felt as if I had accomplished what I wanted and I was enjoying everything more. I’m sure the nice weather had something to do with that too.

From northern Norway to Belgium I travelled with the Hurtigruten, which took me through some phenomenal landscapes, I spent a week in Bergen and surroundings with my parents, who came to visit, and I crossed the North Sea to England on a cargo ship. In England I cycled to Stonehenge to experience the Summer Solstice, together with some ten thousand people.

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It was magical. And the beautiful part is that I just made everything up as I went along.

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Of course I had a romanticized vision of how everything was going to unfold, but reality is always better.

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Thinking back, this journey has taught me three valuable lessons:

  1. Mental strength is more important than physical strength.
  2. Take chances.
  3. Be flexible.

By the way, I never slept alone in the Swedish woods or cooked meals on an open fire. Nor did I catch a fish.

The things that I did do were a million times better.

Check out more of Bram’s writing and photography at travel-experience-live.com.

8 Responses to “Lessons Learned while Cycling to the North Cape (and Back)”

  1. SEA monster

    Awesome pictures! This one (journey) is high on my list to do.

    Reply
  2. Menno

    I had The Same experience! In 2008 my friend and I started in Atlanta going North to Yorktown Virginia. I had Kneetroubles too. We rented a truck and after three days started Cycling again. Never had any issues with my knees anymore. The trip was incredible! Next year I’ll start again for 6 months from Prudhoe Bay to Panama City with The Same recumbent I used last time. I planned The route but this isn’t fixed I’ll be flexible. Just enjoy Cycling!

    Reply
  3. Dan @ A Cruising Couple

    This is amazing! We did a 1,000 mile cycling trip through Vietnam in much of the same way. We found cities we wanted to see along the way and managed to change our route 3 or 4 times throughout the trip. We were in no way prepared for the physical and mental challenges that presented themselves but it is still one of our most life-changing journeys we have ever completed. Looks like you had an amazing adventure as well!

    Reply
  4. Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries

    Nice to see Bram’s journey getting more exposure!

    Reply
  5. Andy

    That pretty much reminds me of my first bike trip ever back in 1998. North Cape it was, too, poorly prepared. Suffering from achilles-tendon inflammation when I reached Hamburg, met & hung out with people, explored cities, took the Hurtigrouten back south and all that. It had been a great adventure!

    Reply
  6. Jennifer

    I found Bram’s blog while he was doing his journey and immensely enjoyed following along! It’s certainly no small feat that he accomplished.

    Reply
  7. Chadi

    Hi, I intend to make a similar trip starting North Germany upwards Denmark Oslo west coast Norway up to North Cape and down through Sweden . This is my first tour but I also think this may be one of the 2 or 3 I will do in this lifetime. I don’t want spend money on buying a tour bike as I want to use the same bike also for nearby trails at home. Can I go with a regular mtb?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Of course – you can tour on pretty much any comfortable bike. MTBs are often a good choice as they’re durable and comfortable and have a good range of gears. It’s probably worth changing the tyres for more road-oriented ones, which will speed you up a lot. If you can’t fit racks to your frame, consider frame luggage or a trailer. Have fun!

      Reply

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