From Germany to Croatia: Embrace the Unknown

From Germany to Croatia: Embrace the Unknown

We set out from Einbeck on a lowering early October sun; fall leaves skirted our tires and winter’s promise urged us forward. “Today is all vibrant warmth, but it will not last,” the breeze whispered.

Our departure felt tentative after several weeks of respite and family reunion in my mother’s German hometown. We left with a number of minor technical issues and contemplated turning around several times that late afternoon.

Yet the calendar quelled any thoughts of lingering in the safety of home.

Steven had less than 30 days to leave the European Schengen zone and we were 717 miles away from the border. Add in the Alps mountain range along with the descent of autumn and we knew time was of the essence.

My eyes scanned every detail passing by, burning to memory this special place where I spent many long childhood summers. At first I knew every turn and corner, but slowly unknown elements appeared. A signpost here or house there which I did not recognise transformed the landscape from familiar to foreign.
A couple hours into the ride we reached a town to check off one of our technical issues. We’d bought a new SIM card but could not get it to activate, so we looked for a local supplier.

Google led us to a shop with a window full of hookah’s and signs advertising games and tobacco products. Three men lounged around the entrance with three solemn expressions facing us.

“Is this the place?” I asked Steven, feeling uncertain. We asked our question and two of the men stared as one answered in heavily accented German.

“No, we don’t carry that SIM card anymore, but my friend down the road, he can probably help you.”

By chance this same young man left the shop with us and his somber demeanour lightened when he studied our loaded bikes and asked where we came from. He transformed as our story unfolded.

“I follow someone on YouTube who cycled all across Turkey! I’d love to do something like that.” His words echoed the longing we felt in all those who uttered these words before him.

We offered him the same advice as the others. Start small. Take a weekend trip, or just a full day trip. With perseverance, you’ll find the way.

The man, whose name we’ve now forgotten, showed us to his friend’s shop and we thanked him. For a brief moment in time our paths had crossed and now we went our separate ways.

His friend was unable to help, but suggested a place in the next town. So we followed this trail, the words of locals like breadcrumbs leading the way.

While we never did solve the SIM card issue, we did meet a handful of people who have etched themselves into our hearts. People who look and sound so different from ourselves but hold the same dreams and desires for life. With time we may forget their names, then their faces, but their auras always remain with us. Their dreams spell the words, there must be more to life than this.

Later we wove our way into a small forest to shelter before the descent of night. Tall trees reflected the continence of the men we’d met earlier, their stillness poised with guarded curiosity. Who are you, what brings you here?

“Forest,” I whispered in my heart, “We mean you no harm. House us this night, please show us the way.”

Sometimes we find a patch of land quickly, but this evening proved otherwise. Uneven surfaces, roots, rocks, slopes and even a wildlife camera kept us on the move. For a long time we debated on one spot but many fallen branches and a general sense of dread kept us going. The trees there sagged with weariness.

In darkness we finally found a clearing and felt the release of a wide vista before us. The tent came up in no time and we marvelled at the warmth still hugging us so long after summer’s end.

Silence gave way only to the gentle rustle of our movements.

Then a mighty crack, a woosh! and low rumble froze our busy hands.

“A tree fell!” I whispered, adrenaline coursing through me. We kept our voices low, as if whatever felled that tree would soon bear down upon us.

I thought of the place we’d contemplated less than an hour ago and gave my quiet thanks to the forest spirits. I felt certain one of the trees we’d studied now lay ready to decompose and feed thousands of beings committed to their task as forest keepers.

At dawn we made a leaf heart, filling it with all the colors of autumn.

Someone loved this forest, someone walked here often and someone kept watch from high up in the canopy.

Our bikes carried us ever forward, south into the known unknown.

The places we pass by are always familiar to someone. All it takes is conversation to know through the memory of another these unknown corners of the world. What joy it is to break the strangeness of strangers with a few words of greeting, a comment about the weather or question about the area. It’s through these moments of connection too, when we get to see how much we already know about each other.

We are all mere moments away from transforming the unknown into knowing. After all, what beats in your heart runs through me too.

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller