With 5 days left of summer vacation, I couldn’t just sit around Berlin waiting to be imprisoned at school for the next year – I had to make the most of every moment and hold on to summer for as long as possible! So I decided to go on the worst-ever-planned (or not-at-all-planned) bike trip. (To read about bike trips gone right, check out Brad from BikeHikeSafari – this guy has logged some serious kilometers and knows what he’s doing!)
I had heard that biking to the Baltic Sea from Berlin was possible (via the Berlin-Usedom Bike Trail), although I hadn’t anticipated it being possible for me this summer. But if I didn’t do it now, it would have to wait until next July since there wouldn’t be another chunk of free time with camping weather until then. The Berlin-Usedom Radweg is a 350 kilometer long trail from the center of Berlin to Peenemünde, the northernmost city on the German island of Usedom (pronounced ooze-ah-dome) in the Baltic Sea. If I biked roughly 100 km a day (65 mi) I would be able to manage the trip in 4 days with some time leftover to lounge on the beach. Per usual I thought, “what could go wrong?.”
Everything. Everything could go wrong.
Hopefully, my short-sightedness has resulted in some good tips for you, or at least some good laughs!
Here’s what I learned on my journey to the sea:
1) padded bike shorts are probably more practical than they are laughable. I’m not really sure that this one needs more of an explanation…
2) when choosing between fenders and lights, just splurge. Lights and a bell are mandatory on your bicycle in Germany, so I decided I would be legal and instead forgo getting the fenders. After spending 2 of 4 days getting completely soaked by splashing rain water and then covered in mud and dirt once the rain let up, I realized that the fenders probably would have been worth it. A fully outfitted bike would have made for a more pleasant ride.
3) get a tune up before you leave. Sometime on day 2, I began to wonder if my rear gears were working. They weren’t. Looks like I would bike 300 kilometers with just 3 gears (one of which is so small it was basically useless). Get your bike checked out before you leave to avoid any annoying problems along the way.
4) plan enough time so as to be flexible with the weather. I was pressed for time on this trip, but in the future I would rather change plans. I spent a LOT of time biking in the rain and then sitting drenched inside a wet tent with a damp sleeping bag. It really wasn’t all that much fun. It would have been much better to be able to bike less distance each day in order to stay dry. I mean, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just poorly dressed people” but really, outdoor activities are much more fun with the right atmospheric conditions.
5) set reasonable mileage goals. This goes in hand with the tip above, but is also based on personal fitness and how much you want to kill yourself on the trip. I had bought the bike fairly recently, and hadn’t been riding while I was traveling over the summer. 100 kilometers a day for several days was an insane goal for not really having ridden a bike since I was 12. Be kind to yourself.
6) make sure you pack enough gas to cook with. This should probably go without saying if you’re camping. But apparently not if you’re me! “Luckily” one night was too rainy to even come out of the tent and cook, so the gas lasted until dinner my last night. No warm breakfast or tea for me on the final day. At least in Germany you’re really never all that far from a supermarket. But in any other case, the only thing worse than being wet and cold is being wet and cold and hungry.
7) always remember something warm to wear. Even in August. Even when you’re going to the beach. I thought that a tank top and shorts would be fine for biking, something to sleep in, and a rain jacket would be plenty. But something else warm to put on after a long day in the rain wouldn’t have been a bad idea either. Be smart. Pack layers.
8) waterproof is worth it. To my credit, I had learned this lesson many times before and was able to appreciate that along this journey. My tent held up like a champ and actually kept me dry and warm every night. The bike bags I got right before the journey were friend-recommended and kept everything inside exceptionally dry. If you do have to ride a long time in the rain, good gear will certainly make a difference.
This trip was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I’ve done. Despite being so miserably tough, I learned quite a lot. And I even managed a few hours on the beach in Zinnowitz (amazingly, with some sunshine) before taking the train back to Berlin. I’m trying to be positive, but I can’t say I enjoyed this adventure. However, I am interested in trying again and using the takeaways from this trip in order to try to improve the next bike tour. I heard there’s a trail all the way to Copenhagen! We’ll see what’s next!