You Are Who You Are

By Jane Mountain | August 31, 2013

6327 km so far.

When you’re following a well-established international bike trail, like the Berlin-Copenhagen route, there are few decisions that have to be made. You can just ride along, following the signs, not really being aware of more than each turn as it comes. However, the way we do it, we check the map every so often and decide if a piece of the route looks good, or if it winds around a ridiculous detour that a perfectly good road could avoid.

Sometimes we take the winding route, sometimes we take the road. When we’re on the winding route, I fret about how much easier it would be on the straight, less hilly road we could have been on. When we’re on the road, I curse the traffic and wonder what interesting sights we’re missing.

An old inn on the Alte Salzstraße, the Old Salt Route.

An old inn on the Alte Salzstraße, the Old Salt Route.

But, no matter which route we take, we still end up in pretty the same place at the end of the day.

Animal Farm

Today, my only goal was to have a nice relaxing day of riding. Whether that took me on the Berlin-Copenhagen bike route, or on normal roads really didn’t matter, as long as we didn’t have to ride too fast, or worry about getting too far.

Stephen eating mystery berries at the top of a birdwatching tower along our route. Also, check out those guns!

Stephen eating mystery berries at the top of a birdwatching tower along our route. Also, check out those guns!

The bike route took us past farm after farm, and though I said the other day that farmland almost always offers something interesting and new, I’m not sure that was true of today. The farms were all a little bleak (the overcast skies didn’t help), with less charm and more industry than we saw in Denmark.

I guess the one new thing we saw was many overcrowded animal farms, which we smelled long before we saw them. The overwhelming stench reached far and wide, often smothering entire otherwise adorable villages. We got to wondering how people could live here, with a cloud of animal stench hanging over their perfectly manicured lawns and cobblestone streets.

Once we got closer to the farms, we could see the long barns, and hear the animals, be they pigs or cows, inside. Usually, the barns were quite open, so we could glimpse the animals packed inside. This is very different than the huge operations in the US, which are surrounded by fences and security cameras. In the US, the animals are usually in closed barns, never seeing the light of day.

Even so, the overpowering stench of too many animals in a confined space reaffirmed our commitment to being vegan. We just can’t stomach being a part of a system that treats animals like this, and that pollutes the surrounding environment as well.

Go With This Or That

We somehow got to talking about choices we’d made, and how we could have so easily ended up in a completely different life. Stephen’s ex-girlfriends all have kids now, and we wondered if he’d stayed in his hometown, if he’d now be a dad, with a steady pay check and a mortgage. Or what if I’d gone back to Canada instead of marrying Stephen when we lived in Britain? I could easily be on the top rungs of some internet company’s career ladder by now, or raising 2.5 kids of my own.

All these what ifs are interesting to discuss, but sometimes I wonder if these decisions are really as important as they feel while we’re trying to make them. Sure, each small choice leads you in a slightly different direction. They may end up sending you around the world on a bike instead of raising kids in the town you grew up in.

But at the end of it all, you are who you are, no matter whether you stick to the highway or meander along on a charming bike route.

A Little Smooth, A Little Crunchy

While we were on the bike route today, the riding was easy. There was little or no traffic, and often the roads or paths led us through completely unpopulated areas: forests or vast acres of farmland.

There was plenty of time when all we could hear was the whirr of our tires on unblemished asphalt. Well, we also rode some patchwork asphalt, dirt and gravel, concrete strips, and even an entire road made of these curvy bricks.

bike on the berlin-copenhagen bike route

Part of the Berlin-Copenhagen bike route.

We also experienced that mythical miracle: a tailwind. It wasn’t consistent for the whole day, but there was enough of it that it helped us along, and allowed us to feel a little like superheroes on bikes.

marsh in germany

A marshy break from farmland, somewhere near Kakeldutt.

The route we chose today got us to a campsite just shortly after 5pm. As usual, no English was spoken by anyone running the campground, so we mimed our transactions. The campground is a little more rustic (read: rundown) than most we’ve stayed in recently, but at €11, the price is right. Plus, they offer a fresh bread service: you order at night and in the morning your loaf is there waiting for you. A nice little extra.

It looked a little like rain when we pulled in, so I quickly put up the tent while Stephen went to shower. I had just gotten the bike seats covered and everything squared away when the first drops began. I slipped into the tent.

And then… oh, and then.

The rain started in earnest and with the rain, the wind came. Whipping at the sides of the tent, sending showers of thick, wet drop across the fly, pounding down the wet sand all around us. It was raining so hard, I didn’t think Stephen would make it back from the bathroom. But sure enough, he came running, and dove into the tent more quickly than he has ever done before.

Good thing, too, because that’s when the storm really started.

Water Wets, But It Also Dries

The rain just kept coming, so hard that the tent bent inwards at an alarming angle. The sandy ground could only soak up so much water, and then the puddles surrounding the tent turned into pools and the pools turned into a small lake. I watched nervously as the water crept into the vestibule on my side of the tent, until my shoes were sitting in little pools of their own.

The water crept higher. The rain kept coming.

I briefly considered getting out and digging a moat, but, not wanting to get soaked, I put faith in our tent. It’s never been through worse, but I felt like it could handle what was being thrown at us. For almost an hour, the storm continued, and then it stopped almost as suddenly as it had begun. It’s not like the sun came out or anything, but the skies dried up and slowly the pool receded.

We managed to stay perfectly dry, and are once again so glad we listened to Tyler and Tara and bought the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL-3. Nope, no one paid us to say that. I just love our little tent.

I thought about what might have happened if we’d taken a longer route to get here. We would have been soaked ten times over, our shoes impossibly wet and our morale squashed for at least a few days.

But would it have made a big difference?

Not really. We would still be us, still have the same dreams and the same goals and the same way of going about obtaining them.

Choices can make a big difference when it comes to the paths we take and the obstacles we face. But no matter what craziness happens along the way, we are who we are, and there’s no one better to be.  

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  1. Comment by Tyler

    Tyler September 6, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Hey you two,

    I just saw the link in this entry float across our site analytics, and then promptly got lost for an hour exploring your beautiful journal. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures! It’s so unbelievably life-affirming to read about kindred spirits doing cool things.

    I found myself smiling a lot at this entry. Tara and I sometimes go down the rabbit hole of amazement about the choices we could’ve made and where they could have led, too.

    I’m glad to read that your Big Agnes tent is keeping you dry! Tara and I are living in a little travel trailer on ten acres in the Green Mountains of Vermont these days, but our Copper Spur is pitched right behind it, still going strong 5 years on. Picturing Stephen’s mad dash to the tent made me nostalgic… I think it’s time to unpack the sleeping bag and sleeping mats and go camping in our woods :)

    Yikes, it’s almost 1:30AM here–I should go!



    PS: If you ever find yourself in Vermont, please drop us a note, we’d love to meet!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane September 8, 2013 at 5:42 am

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words, Tyler. It’s kind of like having a celebrity on our blog, since the stories you and Tara tell on Going Slowly inspired us to take this trip, and continue to inspire us as we try to decide what we’ll do when it’s time to settle down again.

      I’ve just been catching up on your recent posts and am so glad that your Homesteading project is moving along so well!

  2. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly September 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

    So well stated that it really struck home with me for the time and place and events that comprise my life now. This all reinforces the yogic belief of living in the present, staying deeply in the moment, and listening for the inner wisdom to guide the next set of choices that are presented before you. Thanks for the continued writings and the inspiration. Namaste!

  3. Comment by mauricio

    mauricio September 5, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Yup…I often wondered what would had happened if I never took that job in Japan in 1995…. I’m glad that I leaped

  4. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie September 5, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Agreed. :)

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