Life during the pandemic changed for all of us and our worlds got smaller. Like many around the world, Jana and Björn of Ride Punk Ride spent most of the last two years cut off from family, obeying social distancing restrictions and staying local. This summer, as Germany began to unlock, they embarked on a bikepacking trip to visit their families after their long separation, taking the slow option to reconnect with both places and people along the way.
Like so many others, our social interactions have been greatly reduced over the past 18 months and we’ve learnt to live in new ways during the pandemic. Video calls with friends became the ‘new normal’ and working from home brought little change to the already monotonous daily routine of modern society. The biggest challenge, however, was the lack of personal contact with our families. Not all of them are trained in dealing with modern communication options and besides, talking to people in person is completely different to chatting in virtual spaces. Anyone that’s tried catching up with loved ones over a video call with dodgy Wi-Fi knows that!
Our extended families live 100-300km away from us and neither Jana nor I drive, so the only way to get to them is by train. As German travel restrictions began to ease over summer, this became a feasible option again, but as long as neither we nor our families were fully vaccinated, we didn’t want to take any risks by using public transport and potentially carrying – or being exposed to – COVID-19.
With train travel out of the question, the family visit would simply have to wait.
Over time, our caution and fear of catching the virus heightened. Björn in particular struggled. An intense battle rose within us that was very difficult to deal with while trying to lead normal lives. Realistically, we will still have to struggle with this for some time to come. However, during this whole period, one thing helped us to free our minds and enjoy some sense of normality – riding our bikes out into nature, away from people and around the peaceful countryside.
Eventually, the day came when we and our families were all fully vaccinated and there was nothing stopping us from catching up with relatives. We could have taken the train, but the more we thought about it, the more that travelling by bike to visit our families became appealing. It would not only be safer but also far more fun. Why not skip the easy option of taking the train, make a challenge of it and embark on an adventure?
Our extended family are spread out over distances that are a good day’s ride apart – long rides, but manageable. And we’d have the comfort of familiar destinations at the end of each day. This added reassurance was appealing, given that this was going to be our first ever bikepacking trip.
And so, we set off one morning at 4 am, dragging our loaded bikes down from our 4th floor flat in Hamburg before stepping out into the dark city. Before long, we were waiting for the ferry to take us across the Elbe and over to Finkenwerder. It was still dark and the crane lights twinkled as reflections on the water. We’ll never get bored of Hamburg’s harbour view, but at the same time, we were excited to leave town and rediscover old places from our respective pasts.
That day we rode 140km to Bremen, where Jana’s father lives. We arrived exhausted but glad to have survived the first day. The following morning, we departed at the crack of dawn once again, sneaking out quietly so as not to disturb anyone else. As daylight broke we rode through foggy forests, and as the day progressed we inched closer to our second destination: Osnabruck, where Jana’s twin sister lives. On the third and final day, we continued riding south, with my mother’s house in Werne as our final destination. It had been three long days of riding through cornfields over rolling countryside, and our bodies were sore from the long hours in the saddle, but we were proud to have accomplished this adventure.
We called this trip ‘Going Home’, despite the fact that we were leaving Hamburg and heading further from where we live each day. For us, this was a trip down memory lane, connecting people and places from our past. Taking the slow way and travelling by bike allowed us to join these dots in a meaningful way, and as the kilometres passed our minds became more relaxed. The stress of everyday life slowly disappeared from our minds and we were not thinking about the pandemic anymore. We were simply looking forward to seeing our loved ones again and having an adventure together.