2004-03-16

Back again?

My premature return to Germany, apologies, thanks and what I have learned on tour

The original plan had me meeting Daniel in the Alps and continuing the tour with him. Crossing the sea at Gibraltar and cycling through Africa. Unfortunately I developed a problem with my hands. It started 2 months into the tour approximately at the time we reached the black sea. At first I blamed the then permanently cold and wet weather, than I suspected my grip technique on the handlebar, then sleeping on the hard ground, then shocks because of bad roads... I tried all kinds of things and got all kinds of advice from different people - nothing helped. The problem only got worse over the next couple of months. When I finally decided to call it quits and return home for proper treatment by a doctor I had such pains in my hands that I couldn't sleep through the night. By then my left hand had practically become unusable and the right was getting worse by the day. Symptoms were particularly bad during the night and in the morning and evening hours. I couldn't fully extend my fingers to make a flat hand and neither could I make a proper fist. Worse still, if I managed to curl my fingers to a fist I couldn't open my hand again. I would encounter a strong resistance and pain with the result of my fingers finally and uncontrollably snapping back straight with a disgusting sound and feeling. Phoning home I got the advice to rest my fingers and not use my hands for a while. This is difficult when being at home - impossible when traveling alone. I still might have continued the tour for a while, but there were several factors against it: by now I was really frightened of causing serious and permanent damage to my hands; the next part of the journey would have had Daniel and me climbing in the Alps which is quite difficult without using your hands; I didn't want to be stuck in Africa like that; and my brother and his girlfriend, who were accompanying me at the time, were heading back for Germany anyways and would present a good opportunity for going back. I struggled and fought with the decision for days before finally settling on coming back. It's two weeks later now and I have been to a doctor in Germany. He gave me quite a dire diagnosis and wants to perform surgery, removing the ring shaped ligaments on my knuckles. I don't want him to do so and am still casting around for alternatives and hoping for natural healing. He does not think cycling is necessarily responsible for my condition.

I will not continue the tour in the foreseeable future. I'm sorry about that, especially for Daniel, who must find a new tour partner now for his trip around the world, and for Jutta and Felix who wanted to accompany me for a shorter amount of time. I feel equally sorry for not being able to continue the travelogue for my readers. I know from personal experience reading tons of weblogs before I left how disappointing that is. Reading about people's travel adventures all around the world I wanted them to continue, I wanted them to succeed, I wanted them to experience all kinds of adventures, the wilder, the better, I wanted them to live my own dreams while I couldn't. I always felt let down when some of them wouldn't continue or would stop before reaching the highest summit or just generally act like a reasonable human being instead of the Indiana Jones movie hero I always pictured such people to be. Now I have been on the other side and know how hard it is. The two most difficult decisions of the whole tour have been starting it in the first place and quitting it. But I'm not willing to sacrifice my health for it, strong as the dream may have been.

The above sounds overly negative, as if the whole trip was a disappointment just because I couldn't finish it the way I originally envisioned. That is not true! Those six months are my most memorable ever. I have never learned so much in such a short amount of time. I have met tons of friendly and nice people many of whom I hope to call friends one day. I have touched and influenced the lifes of many and have opened the eyes of some to alternative, green, methods of transportation. My own perspective has expanded and grown by heaps and bounds. I have seen countries and peoples I only knew from half truths and prejudices. I'm sooo glad I did. I have learned a lot about myself, too. How I react in difficult situations, how far I can push myself, how I can keep myself motivated, how I experience foreign people, languages and countries and how competent I am living entirely off my own capabilities and resources. Experiencing solitude was a very worthwhile and eye-opening endeavor as well. Still the feeling that I have failed, that the "Europe round", was just a warm-up phase and the real adventure was yet to come in Africa, lingers. And while this is true to some extent one thing I have learned and what makes me happy is the realization that living my one big dream didn't saturate me, didn't drain me out, didn't leave me uninspired and empty afterwards. Actually it is exactly the opposite. Living this one dream spawned lots and lots and lots of new ones and new ideas and projects and destinations and wishes are shaping up in my head faster than I can live or even remember them. That is good! That keeps me motivated, keeps me going, keeps me confident keeps me alive. Makes me eagerly await and shape my future.

One part of me is happy to have found an "excuse" to be allowed to return home. I've missed friends and family more than I had originally imagined - not even mentioning my girl-friend! While I still want to realize lots of freaked out and crazy dreams in my life I know now that I wouldn't want to do so in solitude. I am a social animal after all. Also the tour was a very tough and strenuous job. Do not be fooled into thinking something like that was just an extended holiday. It is not. Not even thinking about the physical exhaustion caused by cycling itself, the daily quest for water, food and a place to sleep is quite stressful. The thing that got to me the most and that I found hard to bear is the feeling of not being wanted. I have sooo much more empathy with the homeless now. Never being really welcome anywhere, at best being tolerated, no place to call your own, to call home. That is incredibly tough.

Lastly I want to thank my friends and family for their continuing support during and after my little escapade. Your encouraging emails and believe in me kept me going when the world seemed a hostile place. Your warm welcome made me feel as if I'd never been gone. Thank you.
Anita. I don't even know what to say to you. Thank you so much for your patience with me.