What I learned from cycling over 12.000km alone: A story about loneliness.

in travelfeed •  13 days ago  (edited)

"It would be very interesting to hear your thoughts and reflections about the times you endure the journey alone, as well as the things one is bound to learn about one self through such endeavours 😊" -@abigail-dantes

As the psychology geek @abigail-dantes is, she came up with the brilliant idea of asking the question as I quoted upon. Which came from the Previous post where I talked about how it feels like to travel with a partner. But before that particular trip, I have only been cycling alone on the two other major trips that together made me reach up to about 12.000km.

I will be attempting here to reflect on my emotions and behavior in this journey alone, quite unfiltered and personal if you will. Hopefully, this story will make people understand what it really was like for me to go through this journey with no one but myself.

In the beginning, my brain started acting as a broken portable radio station for music, the problem was I had no way of turning it off and it kept repeating the 5 same songs.

I still remember the first days when cycling through Germany. It was so early in the season that even snow appeared one of the days. Not many people would be spending their time outside, especially not in the countryside. This also meant that it was probably some of my loneliest times I have had on my whole trip.

Because of this, the time I spend inside Germany was pretty much on my own. To be honest, I also had no idea how exactly to approach people. Because how exactly do you do that? how do you just walk up to a person and start a conversation? I had no idea how socially awkward I was before I started this trip.

So most of the time, I would be by myself all the way through Germany (trust me, that is a huge country to bike through when it's my first time ever cycling anywhere).

Since I was so smart not to have brought any music or e-books along the way my mind started to be the only entertainment I would have.

So as I was biking through the endless fields of Germany in rain and hail and with not a person in sight... my mind started to sing, and oh boy, did it sing.

To the plaaaaaaace I belooooooong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads!

"I'm turning my head, up and down, turning, turning turning AROOOOUND!
And all I can see is just another lemon tree

"You are the one that I want, UH UHH UHHHHH HONEY!

My brilliant mind usually switched between just a handful of songs and it started to drive me absolutely mad. It was my only weapon to fight the boredom yet, it felt like some greater being had cursed me with this internal loop of songs that mostly would switch every 30 seconds because, well, I never really knew too much of the lyrics. Mostly I would just mumble my way through the songs.

When the "5-song Radio" was off, usually it would be because I was having conversations with myself... My weakness talking if you will.

I started talking to myself, a lot. Sometimes I would talk about the more innocent stuff as how shitty the weather is and how unfair the world is to me not giving me any sunshine or not enough downhills.

But sometimes those innocent thoughts just kept growing... how I should rather have stayed at home and enjoy partying with my friends or why I was so stupid not to stay with the girl I was in love with.

Eventually, I would start plotting my escape from this commitment of a trip I so happily had jumped into. This was usually done by imagining conversations in my head, finding excuses on how I would tell my sisters, parents or friends that I had no choice but to stop the trip:

"I really wanted to continue but my knee was too damaged."

that was a classic on early on, which, to some degree would be true since I did, in fact, have to drag my bike for almost a week, my knee simply hurt too much to cycle. I gotta be honest this part of the trip was the hardest part and that was despite the terrain was pretty much just flat compared to the future mountains I would have to go ever later.

Not only did I feel like the loneliest man in the world, but I also could not even fucking bike. I had to drag that stupid thing around for a week. I was furious It was not how I had imagined my trip at all.

The excuses and self-pity would just keep coming because the problem was here, there was nobody to talk me out of all these emotions I was going through. They just kept eating me up.

Luckily these thoughts never became actions since I am sure, that would possibly have been some of the worst decisions of my life.
I had a few close calls where I was so sure I would just turn around and head home:

"NEXT major city I cross, I get a train directly home, that is for sure!"

But it seems as I would get closer to those cities, my voice also had a reason. Because deep down I knew, everything would get easier if I just kept going and did not give up. It was just not always that easy to see with no one around me to talk to about it.

So yeah, I guess I developed some kind of mild schizophrenia on my trip and my radio still seems to turn automatically on every time I touch a bike.

This group of people was the first people I got into contact with on my journey, they invited me to their performance show for free

Being alone meant I had to seek out to socialize with anyone I might get the chance to get into contact with, like a starving leech desperate to find blood.

If you think all of that above sounds like completely unnecessary self-torture, I guess it all had some kind of reason to the madness. One would think so much alone time would make a person somewhat unable to socialize but it turned out this was not the case.

I still Imagine those poor bastards that would be so "lucky" to cross my path. Suddenly this dirty and smelling person on a bike would roll by and open up a conversation they probably didn't expect.

All my thoughts, feelings and experiences had been accumulating up to a breaking point and all of it thrown at the first victim I could find that showed just a slight interest in me. I guess that is what we call "desperation".

I would talk, I would listen, I would ask about everything the person would have to say.
Maybe it was a desperate attempt to get a break from the internal radio that only knew 5 different songs inside my head.

Or maybe I just missed company so much, so bloody much that both my attitude and behavior had changed inside me. That is how I felt honestly. I felt so much joy talking to the people I met, no matter if it was for 10 minutes. It would leave a smile on my lips for a day.

I have so many pictures of people I met, I don't think I would ever reach the end

As weeks and months went by cycling alone I could really notice a difference in my behavior, suddenly I didn't feel alone anymore

I figured out that most people that will meet a lone traveler, especially one on a bike, usually catch most people's attention. At some point, I would have no trouble going up to a full group of people on a campsite and just join them for a talk. Many times leading to unexpected outcomes such as getting invited home to people's houses, join them on a small part of their trip and many other things.

I had finally figured out, how to travel alone without feeling lonely. A learning process that took a long time to master for me. With time it only got better. Many times it happened I would find other tour cyclists on my way that I would join for a few days if not weeks, enriching my journey even further.

My stories just kept accumulating and it was amazing to me how people kept crossing my path and influenced my journey.


I was not lonely because there were no people to talk to, I was lonely because I had not learned to be alone.

My loneliness was never really there when I come to think about it. I was not feeling "lonely" in Germany because of the cold and bad weather and thus no people to talk to. I was feeling alone because I just didn't know how to be on my own in a journey like what I had embarked on. Being at home was never a problem, but when you are exposed to an ever-changing environment, it's a different story.

When everything is a little tough, it is always nice to have someone besides you to share your burden with. I didn't have that when I was laying inside my tent in the cold forests of Germany, or when I was enjoying a nice meal on my own. I didn't quite understand how to appreciate all of that, because, usually I would be doing this with somebody else.

Just like I had to accept being vulnerable to the world, most people who I met would also see me as being vulnerable. But not a single person decided to use this in a bad way.
I started understanding nobody wished me any harm, many times, they all wished me only the best.
What scenario would you have the easiest to meet a new person in? if he/she was alone or in a group? I think most people would have an easier time opening up to the person who would be alone. This is the most important advantage I had to realize when traveling. Being by myself was not a shame, it was a blessing that would let me meet new faces every day.

in fact, when I had come around to accept all of this, I had more than enough company throughout my journey. Sometimes to the extend I would have to avoid getting into contact with people because I just wanted to be on by myself... Imagine that.

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@holm! How spectacular! I read the entire post with a smile on my face. What a journey! And, of course, again, one that one can draw so many parallels with life itself. Inst’ it?

The way our automatic thoughts can bring us down and whether they are put into action or not… I guess it is really a matter of having a greater purpose. Do you agree? You had the negative thoughts, the bad knee and the harsh weather to stop you from going forward. Yet, you just kept on going 😊

What I found particularly touching was your realisation of ‘how to travel alone without feeling lonely’. In psychology we understand that learning to be alone entails learning to be with the self. You showed that this is a process which empowers us and helps us not to feel intimidated by the absence of others. In many cases, especially those related to bereavement, that is the very mindset people have to acquire in order to move on and enjoy life once again.

And, of course, like you beautifully put it, it all begins with accepting our vulnerabilities to the world (and to our own minds!)

Absolutely stunning. I didn’t not expect you to post this so soon. But it provided me with a very, very pleasant read.
Thank you so much @holm 😊

Ps: In psychology, all those bits & bobs of songs that keep playing over and over again in our head are termed earworms (or brainworms).

Thank you SO much abigail! Honestly I didn't intend to finish it so quickly but I was in such a flow that the hours just passed by and I finished it in one go.

I really agree by seeing the greater purpose and what ultimately would be better for oneself instead of giving in for temporary pain and discomfort is really important. At least to me.

earworms?! That sounds about right. Maybe I should get some medication for those buggers, haha! :-)

Im really happy you enjoyed the post! since it was kind of you who inspired me with the right questions to make me write it! cheers for that!

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That sounds about right. Maybe I should get some medication for those buggers, haha! :-)

Interesting to read your thoughts and how you progressed into finding interaction and how you had the same boredoom sentiment in the beginning due to lack of interaction.

My experience is different. I had been a teacher before my major trip alone, which by itself makes a person more communicative overall and makes it easier to approach random people, and also it was a trip hitchhiking, so there's communication all the time.

On the latest trip though, cycling through Europe during the winter, that's when boredoom kicked in at times, because there was absolutely no one outside, let alone travelling. Being by myself all the time sometimes was tiring as fuck, because it was always me deciding everything, I was always right about things, because no matter the decision I'd take that would be the right one at that moment, there was no room for debating with someone else or simply follow someone because you are tired and don't want to think.

I agree with you that there's nothing wrong about being alone, it's addictive as hell once we realise how peaceful it is without all the information noise that comes from being surounded by people, we are now able to filter what groups we want to engage with, or filter not to engage at all - it's fantastic, no more doing shit we don't really want to do to fulfill the fear of being alone.

I think my loneliness in the beginning also came from the physical stress I had to endure at the same time. That, and I am what most people would call an introvert person, maybe not to the extreme, but I am certainly never the person in the spotlight. So that was something I had to learn. Now, when cycling pretty much from out the gate I feel confident and never really bothered by being alone either, it's funny how we change with time.

Really impressive you went through Europe during winter, that gotta be cold lol. I usually have done it the other half of the year! I did think about taking a winter trip but I cannot imagine every day to wake up in a frozen tent.

That's why I encourage people to travel alone, it's the best form to push ourselves into changing and we do learn a lot.

As for winter cycling, it's possible, challenging, but possible... also different. Everything wakes up frozen, bicycle, seat, gears, brakes. Tent is always wet, at least the outside, plus it's pain to store it away when it's rock solid, only folding and it destroys the tent.

Great story, mate. Thanks for sharing!

I did a 1000 km long cycling tour within the southern half of Finland in the summer of 2001. The lack of interaction was hard on my psyche. In particular, the longest leg from Pori on the southwestern coast to Kannus about 40 km of the coast towards Kajaani from Kokkola in the northern part of the west coast. That leg was 350 km long and I rode it in 21 hours including all breaks. Even that felt like too much without interacting with people all that much. Fortunately, my ride was the most basic kind of bicycle in existence. The ride was completely painless and smooth. What I learned from that tour was the necessity of having company on such long tours.

Finland got to be beautiful to bike through with all the endless forests!
I think I enjoy both being alone on my tours and having a companion with me. They have both proved to be very successful! But I believe this comes down to a personal level of what we prefer!

I was lonely because I had not learned to be alone.

Interesting! I am glad to have come across your post because I was just recently thinking about loneliness on the road. I have traveled solo on shorter trips before but I am also embarking on a longer one. But then you're right, solo people tend to get more attention and strangers/ locals/ fellow travelers would easily talk to us.

I also realized that I was most lonely in a group of people I do not belong in, now that's real loneliness rather than just being physically lonely.

Despite the loneliness, i think it is an awesome thing you have done here. I share your sentiment about "brain radio" ... when i was trekking in Nepal i also had no tunes and there were songs on repeat in my head and they were normally songs I don't particularly like.

I hope to do a trip like this myself one day. Kudos to you pal.

Haha Exactly! Those damn songs would just not shut up, and they could really be the worst selection of songs.

I really appreciate the words man! That's what's keeps me motivated to do these posts! :-)

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Beautiful and boldly :)

The very idea of being alone scares almost everyone but you have learned to tackle that fear.
Proud of you brother

I see it as fun and joyful considering the nice looking places.

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Very interesting read great work my friend it sounds like you had a lot of fun keep up the good work buddy 👍🏾

Hey @holm! Never was there a time when loneliness was tagged as something useful or recommended. Glad you tackled this with all fervency.

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Absolutely struck a chord with me this @holm as i am starting on a similar path right now, the path to learning to be alone. As you said 'I was not lonely because there were no people to talk to, I was lonely because I had not learned to be alone.'. This applies to so many of us as Dandapini teaches. It is the human conditioning to be around others and thus most of us spend a lifetime being distracted from ourselves and the world around us by the others we are in the company of. True happiness often comes from learning to be alone and do things that your subconscious really wants to do. My hat is off to you sir!

wish you best of luck. Thats a story which nobody can take you away.... awesome

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