Three things I have learned about life cycling from Gibraltar to the North Cape

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About five years ago, I started an initiative to cycle around the world to raise money for the zis-foundation ( zis gives study grants to young people between 16 and 20 years of age. The students have to come up with their own subject of interest in a country of their choosing and travel there alone and without own money for at least four weeks to study their topic and immerse themselves into the culture of the place. They also have to write a thesis about their topic and keep a diary to capture their thoughts, feelings and learnings.

Because of the Covid pandemic, I could not leave Europe during the last two years and needed to find different travel destinations. So it happened that I have meanwhile cycled 7,000km from Gibraltar, the most southern tip of Europe, to Europe’s most northbound frontier, the North Cape. On the way, I crossed 12 countries and was able to collect almost 90,000€ in donations which is the equivalent of 100 zis study grants.

Here are three things about life which I have learned on these journeys.

If you are persistent, you can achieve much more than you think

Many people think that it is not possible for them to cycle such a distance. They think one needs to be an extreme athlete to do this. However, everybody can cycle at a speed of 15km/h. This is really a slow and comfortable pace. If you go at that pace for 10 hours, you reach 150km on that day. This is already a very decent distance. If you then repeat this effort for 47 days in a row you get from Gibraltar to the North Cape. Small things add up to a real big thing if you repeat them often enough.

The world really is a safe place

Many people tend to overestimate the risks of traveling alone to remote places, through the wilderness or simple unknown countries. However, the insights of thousands of zis journeys of the last 60 years and also my own experiences show that we tend to confuse the unknown with risk because as humans we tend to fear what we don’t know. Once you immerse yourself into a journey and you open yourself up to other people and to what is wanting to happen, it is amazing how many miracles are out there waiting for you. In all my travels I have always experienced generosity, kindness, and support whenever I encountered a difficult situation. At the zis-foundation, there is even a name for it: we call it “zis-Glück”, i.e. the luck of zis-travelers. I have learned that risk and uncertainty are nothing to be minimized but something to be embraced instead because they are the door to highly unlikely encounters, unforeseen possibilities, and mind-blowing miracles.

Less is the new more

Having been a manager for several decades, I have learned to appreciate status, luxury, and comfort over many years of traveling. I learned to see it as a token of my achievements, as something that defines the status quo for me. However, over five years of cycling around the world, I had the chance to unlearn a lot of this. From sleeping in four-star hotels, I went to staying in simple hostels and finally to camping in the wilderness. What I find amazing is that the more I reduced my level of luxury, the more I felt joyful peace, deep content, and a feeling of wholeness which I have never experienced before. It is the appreciation and gratefulness for the little things, for the encounters with strangers and for the moments in nature that cannot be bought with money and yet are so precious.

How does this sound to you? I am looking forward to your thoughts and your own stories.

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