It Takes Two

Ida Sigusch and Tilman Jiménez Reichow met and fell in love in Umeå, Sweden. A long bicycle tour through Europe, initially on a recumbent tandem, strengthened their relationship (this is by no means a given). On the road, Ida and Tilman met many friendly and helpful people who helped them in their quest to reach lighthouses at extreme points of Continental Europe. In the process, they also overcame mechanical issues, insurance problems, rabid dog attacks, and the harsh environment of the Arctic Circle. At times, they only managed these difficult situations because they were together. And so, they say, “It takes two.”

Episode Transcript

Ida: You find a lot of nice and welcoming people, and it restored the faith for me in humanity, because after the Covid pandemic and all the crisis we are going through right now, I think it’s very nice to see that when you talk to people, like, the people are nice, and it doesn’t matter which nationality they have or which religion, but they are just generally nice to you.

Gabriel: You just heard Ida Sigusch, reflecting on the long bicycle journey that she and her partner Tilman recently completed. They accomplished their goal of seeing the lighthouse in Portugal at the westernmost point of Continental Europe and the lighthouse in Norway at the northernmost point of Continental Europe. In between, they overcame mechanical issues, insurance problems, rabid dog attacks, and the harsh environment of the Arctic Circle. They were helped along the way by many friendly people, but at times, they only managed these difficult situations because they were together. And so, they say, “It takes two.”

Sandra: You’re listening to The Accidental Bicycle Tourist. In this podcast, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and learn about their most memorable bike touring experiences. This is your host, Gabriel Aldaz.

Gabriel: Hello cycletouring enthusiasts! Welcome to another episode of the Accidental Bicycle Tourist. Although we are just getting warmed up, we’ve already reached an important milestone. Today we can celebrate two firsts. The first first is that Tilman Jiménez Reichow, along with his cycling partner Malte Bossert, was already the subject of a previous episode, titled “An Optimized Tour of New Churches,” is with us today. The second first is that the Dutch tandem that Tilman and Malte used for their tour was used again by Tilman for a recently concluded trip around Europe. This time Tilman shared the tandem with his partner, Ida Sigusch. Tilman and Ida, welcome to the Accidental Bicycle Tourist.

Ida: Thanks a lot.

Tilman: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Gabriel: This is a bit unfair because, Tilman, we already know something about you. You haven’t even had a chance to defend yourself.

Tilman: Oh, yeah. I’m looking forward to what’s gonna be told about me.

Gabriel: Well, the subject of this episode is mostly the tour that the two of you took, but I do have to say that I have a sound clip. This is how Malte described you in the previous episode.

Malte (previous episode): I mean, Tilman is positively crazy.

Ida: I think you can tell, by his hair and his beard, that that’s definitely true.

Gabriel: As I look at you today, I would say, “Yeah, you have a fair amount of hair.”

Ida: And it’s growing and growing.

Gabriel: Tilman, prior to this tour, did you have much experience touring?

Tilman: So, I did learn how to ride a bike when I was young. And when I came to Germany, I did like three kilometers to the next town and back, and for me that was, like, the longest you could ever ride in in the world. My touring experience goes back, like, ten years. Ten years ago, I started touring with my mom, which was just by coincidence, I guess. So, my mom used to live in Hamburg, in North Germany, and we had to meet friends in South Germany, at the Bodensee, and by that point I had no idea that bicycle touring existed as a concept. And then someone said, like, “Oh, yeah, you can take the bike there.” And my mom, my mom was like, “Yeah, yeah, sure whatever, but there’s mountains in between.” And so, he was like, “The north is flat, and then you take the canal, and then you take the Rhine and you basically arrive there.” And my mom was like, “Yeah, not gonna do that.” But over time she became convinced. And then I just bought a cheap tandem off eBay, and we toured 17 days, I think, or something like that. And it was fun. So, we did it the next year again, went to France. Then I realized it’s nice, but at that point I was cycling more than my mom. So, I just started cycling myself alone, basically every year, once.

Gabriel: And Ida, what is your background?

Ida: So, we met during our Erasmus semester, like five years ago, in Umeå.

Gabriel: When you say Umeå, that’s Northern Sweden?

Ida: It is considered Northern Sweden in terms of population density, but during our trip we discovered it’s not as far north as we thought. We had a lab together with a Swedish guy, and we formed a group called the Crazy Molecules, because of course it was about molecular physics.

Gabriel: There’s that word again, “crazy.”

Ida: Yeah.

Gabriel: So the Crazy Molecules Lab Group. By the way, this is all super nerdy. And, I’m a nerd myself, so when I say “nerdy,” that’s positive, from my point of view.

Ida: Nerdy we always take as positive.

Gabriel: Oh, good! Then I’m in the right group.

Ida: Yeah, we had a crazy lab guy together, and he insulted us because we were German.

Gabriel: How did he insult you? This sounds very serious.

Ida: We had a question, and he was, “No, that’s like this.” And we were like, “Yeah, but why?” And he’s like, “It’s like this.” And we’re like, “Yeah, but why? Because it does not make sense.” And he was like, “Ah, you probably don’t understand, because Germans just study for three years, and we Swedish people, we do five years. And we’re like, “Yeah, actually, in total, we also do five years.”

Gabriel: Okay, so it was an academic insult.

Ida: Yeah, it was an academic insult, which even hits you harder as an academic.

Gabriel: Right, okay, so you had to prove him wrong.

Ida: Yeah. And then we were so pissed off, so we spent the eternal days in Sweden together in the computer lab to actually prove him wrong. So that’s basically when we got together, and then it was already end of semester, so we just had the two weeks left, and then he told me, “You know, I actually planned to ride a bike through Europe, for four months or so, and it’s not a normal bike. It’s a recumbent one. And then I was like, “Yeah, this guy is crazy. And hopefully, I can someday share his craziness.”

Gabriel: And Tilman, where did you go?

Tilman: I used the opportunity Erasmus gave me, which was meeting a lot of people. So I just went to basically visit them all. And I just headed back from Umeå home. Like I did, Umeå, Nordkapp

Gabriel: But that’s the wrong way!

Tilman: Yeah, yeah. But then I went down to Vienna, Barcelona, and then I went home. I had four and a half months, so you kind of have to spend the time, right? I had done tours before, and I had a bike that wasn’t my size. It wasn’t, like, fit for me, and so my butt hurt, my hands hurt, my everything hurt. And so I thought, if I’m going to do four and a half months, then I’m gonna get something comfy. And so I just went for a recumbent. Basically, I think I rode it like 150 kilometers and then I just went on a tour on it. Was best decision ever. I can just recommend it. It’s really comfortable for a long distance.

Gabriel: Yeah, that’s one of the benefits of the recumbent tandem. And, Ida, Tilman said goodbye and he pedaled away. Did you stay in Umeå?

Ida: No, it was fortunate that I also left Umeå, but by train because it was planned a bit longer ahead. Tilman also visited me, and this is where I tried to join him for one day.

Gabriel: What do you mean, “tried”?

Tilman: I have a huge respect for Ida as a cyclist. When I was coming to her home, we agreed to meet at the parents of a friend’s place, because they live close to here. I thought, “Okay, Ida has no experience in long distance cycling. Let’s just make a shorter tour.” So I planned, like, 120 kilometers, so we can do 60 / 60 to her parents’ place. Then the first day passed. We were done with 60, and Ida was like, “I can continue,” and so we continued, and then we were at 80, and she was like, “Hmm, it’s just 20 kilometers to 100.” So the first day, like, of her – not within a city cycling – she did 100 kilometers. And I was like, “Okay, this is a person I can cycle with, definitely.”

Gabriel: Approved! That was a great first day out. Tilman, you didn’t need to convince Ida of anything.

Ida: No.

Gabriel: She just hopped on the bike and she was off.

Ida: That’s why we decided to start the big trip on a tandem, because we have very different levels of biking, and in the tandem we can at least stay together and push through all the hard parts together.

Tilman: And we got it from this same company I had gotten the recumbent from. So we didn’t know that recumbent tandems existed.

Gabriel: Malte remembered it was a Dutch company, but he didn’t know much about it, because it was your bike. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Tilman: Yeah, yeah. So they’re Dutch. The company is called Nazca, or it used to be called Nazca. They actually stopped producing, I think, like three years ago, because it was just a Dutch couple that produced recumbents, and they retired, so the company got dissolved. We basically got one of the last ones.

Ida: And then we just decided, after my Masters, to go on a bigger trip together, because it was just the perfect time for it.

Gabriel: What was your goal on this trip?

Ida: I guess, just to have fun and to discover Europe. Europe is very unique and has a lot of diverse people living in it. And we just wanted to get to know them, because on a bicycle you’re more exposed to everything around you, to your whole environment, than you’re in a car or in a train. So you get, actually, easier contact to people in good and bad ways, but mostly in good ways.

Gabriel: Yeah, that’s my experience as well, and we’ll talk more about some of those people later, because I’m always fascinated by the connections cyclists make. Wanting to have fun is a good goal, but you need to choose some direction to go.

Tilman: So, this might come as no surprise, based on what you know of the Neukirchen tour, but I saw a map of lighthouses in Europe, and I was like, “We’re visiting the extreme lighthouses of Europe.” The basic plan was, we go to Cabo da Roca, in Portugal. In the south, by Gibraltar, there’s one, and then there’s one, Slettnes Fyr, in North Norway. Those were like our goalposts, and then we can see in between where we go.

Gabriel: You said, incredibly, that you’d already been to the North Cape on this solo tour, so this would be a return to that northern, northern part of Norway?

Tilman: To the northern part, yes. Not to not to the North Cape. To be honest, I don’t recommend going to the North Cape. It’s really boring. There is nothing there. There’s just a lot of campervans, and actually, it’s not the northernmost point of continental Europe, because it’s an island. So it’s connected by a tunnel. So you go down, and then you’re halfway through the tunnel, and then you have to go up to the other side. The tunnel going there is fun. Well, the half of it, like the half going down, the half part going up is no fun at all.

Gabriel: A lot of people make the North Cape their goal, so I assume this tunnel is safe for cyclists?

Tilman: Well, I guess there’s enough cyclists that people realize there’s cyclists. I think, technically, you’re not allowed to go there. It’s seven kilometers.

Gabriel: Oh, wow.

Tilman: If I recall correctly. So you have, like, air ventilators pumping the air out. There’s two lanes, so if you’re if someone stuck behind you and there’s oncoming traffic, they’re probably gonna be stuck behind you quite a long time. So, usually people try to do it really late in the evening or early in the morning, when there is not that much traffic.

Gabriel:  That doesn’t sound like that much fun.

Tilman: The northernmost point of continental Europe is actually two half-islands to the east, which is more or less where the lighthouse is.

Gabriel: So that’s an important distinction.

Ida: Ah, yeah, yeah. Because we’re scientists, and we are very precise. When we say we go to the most extreme points of Continental Europe, we mean Continental Europe.

Gabriel: I’m still a little uncertain. You said that there are three lighthouses: one in the north, one in the west, and one in the south. But how do you decide what direction to start off in? Do you go north? Do you go west? Do you go south?

Ida: I graduated in summer, 2022. Then we decided, well, when we start in summer, maybe the best place to be in winter is a thousand and not vice versa. So then we started to head south and in between we had some friends who were granted some special rights on our website. They can actually put some points of interest on the map, where they thought it might be nice to go.

Gabriel: Your website has a map on it, and superimposed on that map is the route that you took. And, to be honest, it looks like a small child just took a crayon and started scribbling on the map. It’s very squiggly.

Tilman: What you see on the map, my mom actually described it as a kid drawing a duck.

Gabriel: The thing that everyone is seeing is a child drawing something.

Tilman: Yeah.

Gabriel: Is that the first leg of the trip, towards France and Spain and Portugal? Did you take the EuroVelo 1?

Ida: Have you been… have you been on EuroVelos?

Gabriel: A couple.

Tilman: A lot of it is actually not built. The French don’t call theirs EuroVelo, which is understandable if you get to see the rest. So, we cycled the other side of the EuroVelo in Portugal, and we saw our first sign after, like, 400 kilometers.

Ida: And later on, we went hiking, close to Cabo da Roca, and it was an incredibly steep hike, with a lot of sand, a lot of holes, a lot of water ponds – it was even hard to walk there – and then you suddenly see a EuroVelo sign, and you’re like, “Oh, you’re kidding!”

Tilman: In the beginning, we had a problem with our luggage rack and we had to go back into Germany. At that point, there were forest fires in like South France and North Spain. When we crossed south of France, we saw, like the destruction of the forest fires which was, like, at that point, like a few weeks ago. So we took it a bit slower, just to let the seasonal forest fires pass. That’s what I really enjoy about cycling. We crossed into Spain. We stayed out at the Warmshowers. For those who don’t know Warmshowers, it’s cyclists on the Internet, who tell other cyclists that you can stay at their home, maybe take a warm shower, which is really nice when you’re on the road. She told us like, “Okay, there’s a bike demonstration in Zaragoza, and you can stay at my mom’s place if you want.” And then we just changed our plans, rode, I think, two or three days to Zaragoza and went to a bike demonstration there.

Gabriel: Oh, what were they demonstrating about?

Ida: For better cycling infrastructure. So it was a very big party, very big fireworks, very loud music. It was a very crazy bike demonstration.

Gabriel: Well, that sounds like a Spanish-style demonstration.

Ida: Yeah, for sure. And this way we also went to see – that was really cool – I think it was one of the most astonishing landscapes we saw, at Bardenas Reales. It’s quite close to the Pyrenees, a bit north of Zaragoza. It’s a badlands landscape, and they have nice and interesting geological features in this Bardenas Reales region. It was very, very impressive.

Tilman: I think that’s a big plus that you get when you have time. When you don’t have, like, a two-week trip, and you have to be somewhere where you just can’t say like, “Well, maybe we skip something else.” And then you just go where people tell you it’s nice, and it’s mostly nice.

Ida: Back in France, we met someone on the road, Daniel, following more or less the Camino de Santiago. We saw that he has rented a place in Santiago de Compostela with two other cyclists. Actually, on the day where we wanted to arrive in Santiago, it was horribly raining and windy, and we just wanted to have a warm shower, so we just asked him if it would be okay to just crash on the floor and sleep there, and he was like, “Well, I have to ask the others, because there’s already another cyclist crashing our place.” So in the end, in this flat, which was supposed to be for three persons, we were six persons and five bicycles. I think we made a very strong friendship with the people over there, and so we all continued our ways, separately, mostly downwards to Portugal. One of the guys, Dominico, he was living there, close to the lighthouse, and he invited us to just drop by. We went to see him, but just 30 kilometers in front of his town, our luggage rack broke again, and it was very devastating because you can’t really push your bike with a broken luggage rack when you have a lot of luggage, and it was in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t reach anyone, so it was a bit of a mess.

Gabriel: I picture you, you’re on the tandem, everything is good, and suddenly, snap! What happened?

Ida: One of the disadvantages of this recumbent setup is that you have kind of a flying rack, so it’s just supported on two positions, under the back seat and at the back fork, or kind of the back fork, but it’s not really attached to the wheel, as it usually is, so it has a lot of swinging. It is hard to balance out your luggage every day, and I think just over time, that might have been the cause for the luggage rack to break at this point. The sun was beginning to set, actually, and then Timan was like, “Ida, we have to stop because the luggage is moving weirdly behind me.” And then we stopped on the side of the road, and then he told me, like, “Yeah, I think the luggage rack is broken.” First, I wanted to laugh at him because it just could not be, and then he was pretty serious. Then we tried to find a solution involving one of the guys from our Santiago flat to come by, drop some luggage, et cetera. But all other reasonable solutions just vanished. Then I remembered that we actually made a bike insurance, which, looking back, I don’t recommend to do. It’s not worth the money. And we explained the situation. It started with, we had to explain them what a luggage rack is, and how coordinates work and that, yeah, should have been suspicious to us in this moment. And after explaining them why we can’t continue with a broken luggage rack, they – after six hours of waiting in the cold in Portugal, during the night – they transported our bike to Dominico’s place, but they left us behind, with all of our luggage.

Gabriel: Wait, wait, whoa, wait.

Ida: Yeah. Then we called them again, like, “How should we continue?” And they were like, “Well, I think that’s your problem, because we were so nice, we transported your bike.”

Gabriel: What?

Ida: And in the end, we actually managed to get there. So, we couldn’t inspect the bike when we arrived, and it appeared that there was a very tiny fracture on the back fork, but you can’t really see it if you’re not looking for it, and it could also have been dirt for that point. We could luckily stay at Dominico’s place, which was very nice, for three weeks.

Gabriel: Oh, wow. Yeah.

Ida: After organizing another luggage rack, we managed to continue. We wanted to leave Portugal because we don’t think it’s the best country for cycling. It was quite stressful, with all the cars, at least along the coast. We were really looking forward to cross again to Spain, and just, like, 50 kilometers in front of the border to Spain and, like, 500 meters in front of the city wall walls of Evora, I had to brake. We were going downhill, and after we wanted to start again our back wheel just blocked, and we couldn’t find the reason why, until Tilman had a look on it, and he thought, “Well, you know, like the frame was broken. Like, the complete back fork is broken,” and in that moment it started to rain. And then you are like, “Okay, it could have been worse. We’re still alive. We’re healthy. Nothing is broken except the bike.” And we called the insurance again. “Long time, no see.” But again we had so much luck because it began to rain. And, Tilman just rang a bell, and an old lady from the Ukraine actually invited us, and we thought it was her home, and she gave us tea and cake, and we talked in a mixture of very low-level Portuguese and Spanish. And then we figured out, it was not even her home. She was just the caretaker of this house, and then we could wait there until the insurance car arrives. But that’s when we kind of had to interrupt our trip.

Tilman: Yeah, and that’s why you see the big flying gap from Portugal back to Germany.

Gabriel: Wow, that’s crazy. So, in the end, was the tandem repairable or was it a complete loss?

Ida: It’s not repairable, because it’s on the back fork, so where all your weight is, and maybe you could solder it, but it must have been done in a very, very precise way, because it’s also holding the back wheel with the disk brakes, etcetera, and you have to trust it going downhill with your luggage on, and that this is not feasible.

Gabriel: Right.

Ida: As Tilman mentioned before, the company just doesn’t exist anymore. And yeah, in the end, after figuring out some other options, we decided to get a new bike, and just continue with two separate bikes.

Gabriel: I see. Oh, that’s a shame!

Tilman: So, one of the bikes was my old bike from the same company, still a recumbent, still works. So we decided, okay, that’s a perfectly good bike. Ida had no touring bike, because we usually toured with like one of the tandems. So we thought, what kind of bike don’t we have yet? And so we went for a cargo bike. Because we had bad experiences with shipping bikes, we actually went to pick it up from Copenhagen. One of us had the great idea that you don’t need two bikes. I mean, it’s a cargo bike. You can just put the other person in front of it and ride back together. But at that point we had kind of specialized our legs onto like this recumbent movement because it’s a bit of a different muscle group, so we were so incredibly slow, like going out of Copenhagen, and then it started to snow it. It was a great, like, 3-day trip we had a lot of fun.

Gabriel: What brand is this cargo bike?

Tilman: Yeah, it’s a Bullitt.

Gabriel: Oh, Bullitt. Is that a very long wheelbase cargo bike?

Tilman: It’s a two-wheeler, which is nice. I feel they handle really, really well, also under load. Coming back to the nerd stuff, I have to name my bikes alphabetically, because that makes sense. So I had a trailer from the company BOB. And so I thought, okay, based on cryptography, the tandem which was pulling Bob has to be called Alice. And then, like my third bike was called Charlie. So we have Alice, Bob, and Charlie, which are usually the names that you use for explaining cryptographic protocols. And so I just continued with it. So I have Dave, Eve, and so we had to get a name with F for the tandem, which is why we called it Fermi.

Tilman: Oh, yeah. I’m looking forward to what’s gonna be told about me.

Gabriel: Fermi. Okay.

Tilman: And yeah, so now, the cargo bike is a G, so it’s called GLaDOS.

Gabriel: GLaDOS.

Tilman: It’s a character from a video game called Portal 2. Well, Portal 1 as well. It’s like one of the top ten villains of video games. She’s great. She’s really, really good. It’s a computer, so it’s like, not evil, just logical.

Gabriel: Ah, okay. Well, you lost me at GLaDOS. But thanks for explaining it.

Tilman: It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s, yeah, it’s just a name in the end.

Gabriel: Let’s get back to your trip. So, after these different segments, you’re now heading south?

Ida: Yes. The Leg 1 plan was that we go to Vienna because we know some people there, and then there was a choice either to go to Germany or to Czech Republic, and we gladly took the road through Czech Republic because it was awesome. It was very, very awesome. We went through the Bohemian paradise, and it’s not an exaggeration. It’s a paradise there. It’s so beautiful. The people are so nice. We met a little girl. We slept at her family’s place. It was very cute because she was shy, because she didn’t understand that well of English, but she tried her best, and now we kept into contact with her, and I think we’re, at least for a short time, the motivation for her to learn better English in school.

Gabriel: Oh, that’s sweet.

Ida: We wanted to go to Croatia, for sure, because some friends of my family, they have a vacation house there. And then there comes my sister, because at one point she was like, “Ida, Tilman, can I join you on your bike trip for, like, two weeks?” And we were like, “Sure, you can.” We have a three-person tent so that would fit. She just have to say which country she wants to bike. She really loves to go swimming, so she thought Croatia might be a good idea to start bicycle touring. After those two weeks, she really loved the time, but I think she would never recommend it as a first start of a bike trip, because it’s quite hilly. So, she came to Trieste by Flixbus. That’s where we picked her up. I think it kind of lies in the family, because her first day was not how a first day should look like. We managed to ride over 100 kilometers from Trieste to the Krk Island, where the vacation house is. And we had to decide in between, if we want to stop after 60 kilometers and just sleep in front of the big city, but if we continue, we have to continue to the end. Otherwise, there won’t be much space to sleep. So yeah, she also did a hundred kilometers, but also 1,700 height meters.

Gabriel: Wow, this is on Day 1.

Ida: Yeah, it was quite tough. And in between it started to hail on us, and yeah, it was a quite rough day for her.

Tilman: So, I think, Ida’s parents are happy that they don’t have a third child, because else who knows what they have to do on their first day?

Ida: Then we continued with my sister through Croatia, and she also just had a shitty city bike, but it was good enough for the trip. It could have been some more gears. But yeah, it was okay.

Gabriel: Yeah. When in doubt, get more gears.

Ida: As we soon had to realize, in the Balkans, you have a lot of stray dogs. But not only them. Also, you have a lot of dogs who belong to someone who thinks they need to protect some property. So, if you pass by them, they are definitely going to attack you. And it was our first time. They tried to attack us, and they actually kind of achieved it because they just bite into one of the bags of my bike and like, just put me down. So this was her second day of cycling.

Gabriel: Oh, wow.

Ida: Now, we learned, just stop, because that really irritates the dog, when you stop. They just think they can chase you forever. But if you stop, they’re very confused. and they definitely want, like probably won’t attack you.

Tilman: Or raise your hand, even if you don’t have a stone, they don’t know that. Dogs are made to hunt. So if it moves, then it’s something they can hunt, and I guess in general people throw rocks at dogs to keep them away, so if you raise your hand as if you had a stone, they’re, like, “Okay, this person has a stone, so I better go away.”

Ida: We wanted to go to Zadar, so that’s roughly where we went again, back over the mountains, at a very low pass. And after all the stress she had so far with us, we decided to give her some break. and we actually rented for one night a campground, which we usually don’t do. And then, our camping neighbors appeared to be Germans.

Gabriel: Nice!

Ida: Yeah. And they invited us for a, I cite now, “A small hike in the nearest national park.” So we said, “Okay.” They seemed to know what they were doing, so we agreed to accompany them on their small hike. It was the Velebit National Park, and it’s a lot of mountains. And we didn’t bring enough water with us, and in the end, we just climbed mountains as crazy, and the small trip took eight hours.

Gabriel: Well, you should know, being Germans yourselves, that when a German person says, “Let’s go on a small hike,” they mean: eight hours, 2,000 meters of climbing, preferably no water or shelter. And then, you know, you come home and you have a beer.

Tilman: Yeah, but we assumed that them, knowing that it was our day off…

Gabriel: Hahahaha. Foolish!

Tilman: They would keep it a bit easier.

Gabriel: That was the easy day. You should see the hard day. 

Ida: Yeah, it was still beautiful, but we were very exhausted at the end.

Gabriel: Yeah, I can imagine. Very funny. Well, teach you to stay in a campground, meet other German people.

Ida: Yeah. The next time we stayed on the campground we pretended not to speak German.

Gabriel: Good idea.

Ida: Yeah. But yeah, after this experience, we continued and dropped off my sister at Split, where she took a bus back to Germany. And we wanted to go further south to Greece, but it was already May, and it was so incredibly hot during the day, and the sun was burning. We had to stop cycling at, like, 10 a.m. And then we decided, it’s just not very reasonable to continue, because it’s not fun like this. And so we had kind of a shortcut decision and we decided, just go to the Balkans to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We didn’t plan that. We haven’t read anything about Bosnia and Herzegovina, except that you need a SIM card, and that it’s sufficient to have a normal European ID card to enter the country. And it was one of the most pleasant and surprising experiences we had, going through Bosnia and Herzegovina. That’s definitely something we would recommend to do by bike.

Gabriel: And what made it so pleasant?

Tilman: The humans. People were so incredibly welcoming. So we went grocery shopping once, in a week, and we came out with more food than we entered the country. People ask you if you want tea, and if you say no, then they’re offended and give you tea. And if you say yes, then they give you tea, but then they invite you for dinner and for breakfast, and it doesn’t matter if you say no, they still do.

Ida: Once, we just stopped at the side of a road, because the road was quite busy, and we just wanted to have some break, and it appears that we stopped in front of a restaurant, and then just some guy came out and was like, “Yeah, yeah, come in, come in!” And we thought that might be a scam, so we said, “No, no thanks.” And then we figured out that they were actually the owners of the restaurant. They wanted to invite us for dinner in the restaurant, and we kept, of course, an eye on our bikes outside. And when we refused to have something for dinner in the restaurant, one of them just ordered the… how is it called?

Tilman: A grilled chicken, like a whole chicken.

Ida: Like a great chicken with potatoes for us to take on our way. In exchange, they just wanted to have stories from the road. The same day we continued further into a smaller town. We just sat along the river on a bench. It was raining a bit, and we enjoyed the very delicious chicken and potatoes. And then just some guy approached us from behind and asked, really asked me the most romantic question I ever heard. “Are you travelers?” And we were like, “Yeah, we are kind of travelers.” And then he gave us some marmalade and a military badge to remember him.

Gabriel: You said it was a badge?

Tilman: Yeah, like the badges you put on the uniforms.

Gabriel: That’s unusual.

Tilman: It was really nice. You get through a lot of emotions while you’re on a bike, right? So there’s highs, there’s lows. Sometimes you just want to be by yourself, because you have these encounters with people all the time. It was raining. Ida had the great idea to take an umbrella with us. It’s not something I had taken on a bike trip before, but it was just so great to have the umbrella and sit below it. So it was nice for him to do that, but it was also nice for him to be like, “Okay, I don’t want to intrude into your like personal bubble that you probably have at this moment.”

Gabriel: Yeah, he could see you were enjoying some chicken and potatoes under the rain with your umbrella, so who would want to intrude on that?

Ida: One guy we really have to mention, we met him in Bosnia, and I just took a nap, and then some guy approached us was like. “Hey!” And because of him I woke up, and first I was a bit pissed because I wanted to sleep. Then he was overly sheared and he invited us.

Gabriel: Ida, there was a word you said that I didn’t understand. You said he was very “sheared.” Usually, when you have a sheep and you cut its wool off, then that’s shearing a sheep. What do you mean, he was very sheared?

Tilman: The word is “cheerful,” I think.

Ida: Cheerful. He was very cheerful.

Gabriel: He was cheerful. I wanted to get that straight because I had this image of a of a man with no hair, or something, when you said he was very sheared.

Ida: He also had not much of hair.

Gabriel: Okay, so he was sheared. He was sheared and cheerful. Now back to your story.

Ida: He has a house in Croatia, and he invites us there to sleep in a garden and maybe have dinner, but we couldn’t continue with him, because he was just way faster than we are. So he just gave us his address, and we decided, okay, this guy seems very funny, so it would be nice to spend an evening with him. So we did more kilometers that day than we actually planned, and we arrived at his place, and he was very, very welcoming, and his wife was very, very confused.

Tilman: We enjoyed a shower first, which was really nice, because we hadn’t showered for quite some time.

Gabriel: Ida, your tolerance for not showering is higher than my wife’s. There’s no way that we would be wild camping all of this time. She needs to have a nice shower at a campground, or at a friend’s house, or wherever. I’m glad that you’re compatible in that way, and that you’re okay with that, because Sandra would not be.

Ida: For me, the disgusting part sometimes is when you, especially in summer, when you have a mixture of sweat and suncream. And maybe rain. That’s very disgusting. And for this times I have wet wipes just to clean the suncream from my skin.

Gabriel: Oh, and don’t forget the dirt and possibly dead bugs on your skin, maybe drowned by the sun cream, I don’t know. In summer, it can be a lethal cocktail.

Tilman: Just as a recommendation for any couples out there, get a tandem and sit in the back, because then you don’t get all the bugs.

Gabriel: Good call.

Ida: Also, if you sit in the back, you get all the smell from the person in front of you.

Gabriel: Oh, okay, pluses and minuses. But let’s get back to this friendly Croatian man. What happened with him?

Tilman: And then we just talked to him. I find it fascinating. He was training. He did a 1,200-kilometer tour in five days because he was turning 70 the next day, and he was training for a 24-hour race. He actually informed us afterwards that he managed to win first place in his category, mostly because it was just him, but he also managed to achieve his goal, which was like 600 kilometers in 24 hours. I think that’s an achievement by itself, but at 70, that is quite a different level of achievement.

Gabriel: That’s incredible.

Tilman: And he had this room, right, so this room was, like the four walls, were completely full with pictures.

Ida: And he just started cycling when he was 60 or so.

Tilman: I think it was really inspiring, like, showing you that touring has no age. Like, if you want to do it, you can do it.

Gabriel: Yes, and that’s a recurring theme on this podcast. That’s one of the reasons for this podcast, to encourage people who might say, “Oh, I can’t do it,” that actually, yeah, in most cases, you really can do it. From Croatia, Bosnia, you go east a bit, and then you go north for a really, really long time. For thousands of kilometers, you go north.

Tilman: Because we had this idea of going to the northernmost lighthouse from Continental Europe, that’s why we basically drove all the way up. And also because we wanted to see Umeå again. It had to be that direction. First, Finland was great. The first half of Finland was awesome. I think we cycled for like a week, and we didn’t see any other car. We saw like two cars, maybe with people going into the forest to their like summer houses, but other than that, we didn’t see anyone.

Ida: In that point we really recommend to go countryside and not coast side, because the coast might be quite full of cars, but the countryside is very, very natural.

Gabriel: And was this on paved roads, or was it dirt?

Ida: Definitely not paved.

Gabriel: Right.

Tilman: But also not dirt, dirt. So it was like compacted, mostly well compacted, dirt roads. So you can actually write ride nicely.

Gabriel: Okay, yeah. The loose stuff, the sand or the gravel, can really slow you down. But if it’s compacted, yeah, it’s good.

Ida: And the nice thing is in whole Finland. You have those lean-to shelters. They are free to use, and if you just go to the countryside where no one is, you usually find one or two shelters wherever you want to set up your camp. So sometimes you don’t even have to set up your tent, and most of the time, they also provided some fireplace and some firewood, so this was also very different from the rest of the tour.

Gabriel: Yeah, that’s thoughtful.

Ida: And who knows. Maybe you get invited to a sauna, which happens in in Finland.

Gabriel: Definitely. What happens in Finland stays in Finland.

Tilman: And then the North. That is something that Ida has to tell.

Gabriel: Whoa. I sense trouble.


Ida: That’s my cracking point of the story as well. So the North can be quite challenging. You should not head there light-headed, because if you hit the wrong time, it can get really frustrating to ride the fjords up and down, in and out, because you basically make no distance, no real distance, in a day. And when you have, like six degrees, headwind, and rain, then at some point you’re doomed. And we had this. It really got onto my nerves, and I couldn’t push me out of this mood for some reason. And there was the question, if we should really enter this half-island to go to the northernmost point of Continental Europe, but in the end my pride won, and I didn’t want to cut off this point just a few hundred kilometers before our goal. So I put my nerves together and we continued. Then the really, really hardest part of this journey started because the half-island is actually two half-islands, so in between, it goes down and up, so before and after you have two plateaus of around 400 height meters. So actually, it’s not that high, but up there you have nothing. You have no trees, you have no bushes, you have no nothing, so there’s really nothing to protect you from any wind or rain. You could also not really set up your tent there, because with the wind speeds we had, it just would have ripped off our tent. We found on the map that at the first plateau there was a very small shelter. That’s where we put up our tent, but during the night the wind direction changed, so it just hit the tent from the wrong side, and there was not much of sleep for that night. And then we continued, and for the second plateau I really didn’t know if I couldn’t see any more, because the way rain just hit into my face, or because of the tears I had in my eyes, because I really couldn’t…

Gabriel: It sounds tough.

Ida: Yeah, that was really a down… a low, low point of for me. And then we arrived at the top of it, and I just cried because it was so stressful. You have to imagine there’s just one road up there, so you have to go back the same road again.

Gabriel: Torture.

Ida: And just didn’t go into my head, and I was just very, very down with my nerves. But, as it usually is, when you’re down with your nerves, you find a lot of very nice and welcoming people. So when we actually reached the lighthouse, there was a couple of Germans, of course. They had a camper, and they invited us to have tea with them in their warm camper without wind, and we could dry our clothes in their camper. And then I asked them, under tears, if they could think, maybe, to put me and my bike in their camper van and drive me back to the beginning of the half-island, and I think they couldn’t imagine how hard the image in my head was that I really could not go back.

Gabriel: They said, “No, but we’ll invite you for a short hike tomorrow in this area.”

Ida: Yeah, that’s how Germans are, right? Yeah, but at least we could put up our tent in the shadow of their camp event, so that was at least a few hours of sleep for this night.

Gabriel: Oh, they did say no!

Ida: They did say no, because there is not enough space in a camper for a bike.

Gabriel: Oh, no, I don’t… no, I don’t believe that.

Ida: Yes, you should, because we got declined several times.

Gabriel: There must be a way.

Tilman: There is a way. I have transported bikes in so many things. I know there is a way.

Gabriel: Yes.

Tilman: It’s just, I think, if you’re in a car, you don’t realize how big your car is.

Ida: But yeah, in the end, we managed. We went to the next bigger village, which was not that big.

Tilman: Yeah, bigger is like 400 inhabitants, so…

Ida: Then we asked two Germans and I started crying again, because I was just so done. They’re unfortunately not heading our way, but they would offer us to pay the campground for one night, because I think they could see that I’m really down with the nerves, also maybe because a lack of sleep. And so they offered us to pay the campground, which was very expensive for us, and they gave us a bit of money, which we usually decline. But we made a deal with them because we would pass their town back in Germany when we would come back. So the deal was, if we can’t manage a way to get to the start of the half-island, then we take their money to pay the campground, and if we manage somehow to go back to the start, then we drop by and give them their money back. Spoiler: we did the second option.

Gabriel: Wow.

Ida: Yeah. They were so kind. And then I started crying because I couldn’t believe that people can be so nice. Then I just put up my thumb and stopped the first car with a with a trailer behind, with two Norwegian guys. I explained them the situation, this time without any tears, because there weren’t much left. And they, without hesitation, they said, “Yes, sure, we transport you back. We just have to deal with something first, but you don’t have to stay in the cold. You can just stay at my brother’s house.” So they drove us to his brother’s house, where I could sleep at the couch, and they were so trustful, because there were credit cards lying around, and they had a big flat screen, and hi-fi and we were strangers to them. So they just let us in the house and picked us up in the evening and drove us back to the start of the half-island.

Tilman: Even though they were not going there. So they just rode for us that way. It’s, like, 70 kilometers.

Gabriel: Incredible.

Ida: And they were nice because I felt guilty and a bit ashamed that I couldn’t continue, not because my body couldn’t, but because my mind just couldn’t continue. I explained it to them, and they were like, “Yeah, no worries. We know how rough the North can be. You’re not the first one to break. There are even stronger people who break from time to time here.”

Tilman: Fun story. That night we slept on a toilet. There’s like a heated toilet, because in the winter it snows in, so you can’t take the road. The road is open, like, twice a day, where they have a snowplow that goes before, and then, like all the cars, go behind it, and because it snows so much and it’s so windy, this road basically just closes behind the snowplow. If you have to wait, they have, like, a waiting room with a toilet, so we just slept like in the waiting room, because it was warm, and the next morning, when we wanted to start riding again, Ida realized that the recumbent was missing like the cushion where you lay on. This is something I didn’t discover on my first trip with the recumbent, which is really weird. You don’t need something to sit on, because you can’t just take the cushion off, put it on the floor and use it as a seat, and then your butt doesn’t get cold. So we used it as a seat while we were waiting for cars to come by, and apparently we forgot it there. And so we were like, “Oh, no!” Ida.

Ida: We hitchhiked back and got the cushion. That’s the short story.

Tilman: Twice. So Ida didn’t go over these plateaus just on the way, and then back, but she did it…

Ida: Again.

Tilman: Once again, to get the cushion. It is. It was still there, so it was all good.

Ida: And just one day later, we met a long-distance hiker. One thing she said to us really stuck in my head, because she said, when she travels either by bike or hiking, she just has the two extremes of feelings. They are incredibly highs, and the next hour she can be an incredibly low, but in normal life you don’t have that extremes, and for her those extremes made it so precious to do the slow travel.

Gabriel: And then, did you need some kind of period to get back into things? How did how did you proceed after this episode and the retrieval of the cushions and all of that?

Ida: We had to keep going. After some time, the North can be quite monotonous, and so your head gets bored at some point because it’s very beautiful there, but at some point you just see a lot of lovely reindeers, but also a lot of the same forests and roads and lakes, and so on. Well, the Swedish coast is really to be mentioned, I think, because you have the Höga Kusten part, which is, I think, High Coast Trail or something. This is very incredibly beautiful. It’s a bit hilly. If one wants to go through Sweden, I really would say, this is a part you should not miss. You can wild camp basically, everywhere in Sweden. That makes everything just way more relaxed than if you have to find some place to hide between bushes so no one sees you.

Gabriel: In Norway and Sweden and Finland, I think they all have the so-called everyman’s right to wild camp, and that does make it easier.

Tilman: Yeah. Then, from there, home.

Gabriel: That was an incredible experience. You’ve mentioned so many nice people that you met. Considering all the countries you’ve been to, you’ve talked about weather, you’ve talked about dogs. Did you have any negative experiences with people?

Tilman: Not, I would say, not in a personal way. I think that the worst we experienced was a car passing us, and, like, waiting to hit a puddle to get us wet.

Ida: But also in Romania you have some regions where it just didn’t feel safe to stay there overnight, because it was just some feeling of how the people were looking at you. But in the next town it could be the complete opposite. So then they would like wave at you, and yeah seemed where we were coming, so that changed quite rapidly in Romania. Just had a lot of luck and nice people and it restored the faith for me in humanity, because after the Covid pandemic and all the crisis we are going through right now, I think it’s very nice to see that when you talk to people, like, the people are nice, and it doesn’t matter which nationality they have or which religion, but they are just generally nice to you.

Tilman: We met a person who believed in basically every conspiracy theory you’ve heard of, and some of you haven’t. We just asked them if we could camp in their garden. They said yes, and they invited us for tea, and at that point we realized they, like, believed in conspiracy theories. You can still talk to them, and they’re still human, and they’re still nice, and they probably don’t share your reality, but when you see another human and you’re willing to help them. I think that’s the most important part of humanity.

Gabriel: So they didn’t think you were aliens disguised as humans sent down to destroy their house?

Tilman: No, not directly.

Ida: Sometimes we asked people just if we could set up our tent in their garden or on the field next to their house. I think I can count on one hand for the whole trip that someone declined.

Gabriel: How was it finally coming home after all that time on the road?

Tilman: It was actually a great last day. I had planned a surprise for Ida, which was, her sister rode with us out of town, like, when we started, and then she rode with us in the middle, in Croatia. And so we’re like, “Okay, we have to get her to ride like the last day with us.” And so over, I don’t know, like a month before, I started texting with her sister, “We’ll find a way to like surprise Ida with you arriving.” After that all worked out, I was so stressed the whole day, because I was texting her like, “Oh, yeah, we’re arriving like an hour earlier,” and so on. So after that I was really relaxed. I was like, “Okay, the surprise went well,” and so on. And then we ride down, like, 500 meters, and there’s like a person waving. I thought they were waving at the car behind us, and then it turns out it’s my sister. I had absolutely no idea. And Ida’s sister actually organized my sister arriving to ride with us as well. So now we were four.

Gabriel: Wow!

Tilman: My mom joined us as well.

Gabriel: Oh!

Tilman: Then, I had this other surprise, which was Ida’s parents waiting at a picnic table that I know we were passing, to show it’s the end, really. I was really happy when that passed, and then Ida blew all my small surprises out of the water by proposing.

Gabriel: Ida, you proposed to Tilman?

Ida: Yes.

Tilman: Then, I had this other surprise, which was Ida’s parents waiting at a picnic table that I know we were passing, to show it’s the end, really. I was really happy when that passed, and then Ida blew all my small surprises out of the water by proposing.

Gabriel: Ida, you proposed to Tilman?

Ida: Yes.

Tilman: Yeah, she was riding in front of the bike, so she has to propose. She’s the steering person.

Ida: You know, sometimes you ask person who has who has the trousers on in the relationship. But for us you should ask, “Who has the steering wheel?”

Gabriel: Hahaha. And that was you.

Ida: I had the steering in my hands.

Gabriel: Congratulations.

Ida: Thanks!

Tilman: Thanks!

Gabriel: I assume Tilman said yes.

Tilman: Yes.

Gabriel: Oh Tilman, you’d worked so hard to arrange all these surprises, and then the surprise was on you.

Tilman: Yeah, yeah. When we met Ida’s parents, I was really relaxed. Now, it’s really all done, and yeah, suddenly Ida got a bit nervous because she had the biggest surprise planned.

Gabriel: That was done in private or with the family members?

Ida: With the family members, because usually Timan’s mam is not around that often. So it was the perfect time, like, at the end of the tour, on the last day, with all our family around.

Gabriel: Wow, so in the end your surprises served to create more of an audience for the whole event.

Tilman: Yeah.

Gabriel: Perfect.

Ida: But actually, our engagement rings, they have engraved, and if you put them together, they make up the recumbent tandem.

Gabriel: Okay, so I’m looking at two rings. This is incredible. They’re two rings, and they are engraved with a silhouette of a recumbent tandem, and you split them apart, and each person gets one wheel.

Ida: Yes.

Gabriel: Oh, wow!

Ida: It’s very, “Ugh!” We know.

Gabriel: No, I think it’s very cool. And one of a kind. I think that’s a lovely story.

Tilman: Usually at the end of a trip, if you go back into the life you had, at the end you feel sad because you have the feeling it’s gonna end and you’re gonna go back to life as you knew it. And for us the great part is, now we’re hopefully moving in together, and we’re starting new jobs, and so on, so the adventure ended – the bike adventure part – but now we have a new life adventure part.

Gabriel: You might be living together. Congratulations! That’s a big step.

Ida: Finally, yeah. After the tent was our first flat together, we also look forward to have a more solid roof.

Gabriel: Yeah, that’s right. And a warm shower.

Tilman: And, I’d like to welcome other cyclists.

Gabriel: Oh, yeah. You can sign up for Warmshowers and meet others.

Ida: We already did.

Gabriel: It’s cool that, Ida, you just have accepted this. Sometimes a tandem is like a “divorce maker,” or something. As Malte said, “You’re only one meter away from the other person, all the time.”

Tilman: Friends actually wanted to borrow a tandem of mine, and I told them like, “There’s two possible outcomes of this. Either you’re gonna stay together forever, or you’re gonna break up.” For, like, the first five months or so, when we were on the tandem, we slept in the same tent. You don’t have privacy. The farthest you go, is when you go into the supermarket, so like one goes grocery shopping. That’s like your free time for like ten minutes, and then you’re done for the next 24 hours.

Gabriel: Well, you’re moving in together and you’re engaged, so I’ve got great hopes for you as a couple.

Gabriel: As mentioned earlier, Ida and Tilman have an English-language website that contains their archived blog posts and their famous map, drawn by a child with a crayon. As always, you will find a link in the show notes.  

Gabriel: The transcript for this episode is available on the Accidental Bicycle Tourist website. I welcome feedback and suggestions for this and other episodes. You’ll find a link to all contact information in the show notes.  If you would like to rate or review the show, you can do that on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram. Thank you to Anna Lindenmeier for the cover artwork and to Timothy Shortell for the original music. This podcast would not be possible without continuous support from my wife Sandra. And thank you so much for listening. I hope the episode will inspire you to get out and see where the road leads you.   

Tilman: First, the different in – oh, I forgot the English word – but yeah, like, the different condition, you can equalize by just putting more weight on the cargo bike.

Gabriel: I don’t follow.

Ida: So, I think what Tilman means is that I am way slower than he is.

Tilman: I was trying not to say that that way!