Getting lost for three days
Two cyclists, 3 days, no maps: David and Kris decided to deliberately get lost in the Bavarian Alps for three days. Read the whole story here!
Kris and I have been friends since school. We have many things in common. One of them is definitely outdoor sports. We’ve run a marathon together, took up ski touring at the same time, and we both got our fishing licence. About ten years ago, we set off on a trip from Munich to the Alps and back on our old road bikes – without a plan, without a smartphone and without a cyclometer. It was quite an adventure, but one that we remember very fondly up until this day.
To cut a long story short, we had decided that we needed three days of digital detox.
Which route to choose when there’s no destination?
Our plan was to spend three days cycling to random places. But getting lost on purpose doesn’t just mean to have no idea where you’re going. It’s also important to leave your smartphone, maps, cyclometer etc. at home.
We immediately fell in love with this simple idea. After all, modern technology – as useful and convenient as it may be – makes everything in life (too) predictable, whether at work, at home or in our spare time. Before even leaving the house, it already tells us where to expect a climb, where to simply let it roll, how to manage our energy and how or when we’ll arrive back home.
It keeps us awaiting and waiting. We await the “idyllic ride around a lake” that’s been promised to us by people who’ve done it before and we wait for that “last steep ascent”. Any surprise we encounter after such detailed and painstaking preparation and planning gives us cause for suspicion.
Getting lost on purpose without prior expectations, on the other hand, turns the unknown and unexpected into pure excitement.
Freedom with rules
Let’s set the record straight though: it was never our intention to pedal through the dark in the freezing cold at night, set up camp in the mud in the middle of nowhere or completely wear ourselves out in the mountains. After a typical working week, we were keen to feel free, enjoy our ride and relax while doing some exercise.
And so we came up with some “rules for getting lost” as a precaution:
• Our trip has no destination
• We’ll start from our homes in Munich on Friday
• And we’ll return by train on Sunday
• There will be no targets or goals when it comes to the length and duration of our daily routes
• We’ll always opt for the path that we like best
• If we can’t make up our minds, we’ll toss a coin
• It there’s a paved cycle path, that’s the one we’ll take
The advantage of not having a plan for your trip is that you don’t have to stick to it
Everything was well-prepared. Nothing was planned. Free as birds, we were about to set off on our little micro adventure when the inevitable happened: it started to rain. And it wasn’t just rain but torrential rain. It was rainy, cold and windy, and with the weather forecast predicting snowfall on that Sunday in May, the outlook for our trip was rather bleak. There was only one option: postpone!
First lesson learnt before we had even started: you don’t need accessories to go on a trip, but you should definitely check the weather forecast!
Nothing can stop us. Not even the rain.
One week later. Take our word for it: it hadn’t rained all morning. I went to fetch my bike from the basement while Kris was waiting in the yard, but just as I crossed the doorstep, it started to rain again. Proper downpour. The expression on my face must have been so unique that Kris started to smirk. We needed to stay positive now. And it was exactly that optimism that chased the dark clouds away. Just 10 minutes later, the sun started to peak through a gap in the sky we took that as the official sign that now was the time to set off!
After exactly 175 metres, I pulled over. My backside was soaking wet. The street was flooded so badly that my road bike (without mudguards) was showering me from below, so I needed an instant solution: a flash purchase of a so-called “Ass Saver” from my favourite bike shop.
Getting lost requires endurance
The next lesson we learned was that our romantic idea of pedalling along deserted country roads in the idyllic foothills of the Alps takes stamina. When the coin tells you to go west but you live in the east of the city, you’ll have to make your way through the urban jungle for over an hour first, stopping at all the traffic lights in between.
But as we reached Gilching, our real adventure began: “We got lost! I’ve never been here and I have no idea where the road is leading to”, Kris beamed at me with pride. It’s a bit like boarding a plane, knowing that this is the beginning of your holiday. It’s the moment that gives you the certainty that you’re now free from all duties and that all you have to do is relax and enjoy.
No sooner said than done.
This is not a tour recommendation!
Our journey took us along Lake Ammer via Andechs Abbey, Landsberg am Lech, Augsburg (the third time we arrived there was evidence enough that we were truly getting lost) and Augsburg Western Woods Nature Park (not suitable for road bikes, but great if you’re looking to get lost) to Gersthofen and finally Donauwörth. It would have been presumptuous to believe that we might discover roads and cycle paths in Bavaria that hadn’t been recorded, mapped and described in any of the popular books and apps yet.
But we felt like “explorers” all the same. We all know that feeling! That feeling of travelling with a blurred concept of something that suddenly appears right in front of you in all its glory. It’s the fulfilment of a vague hope to find places that are entirely foreign to us and confirmation that we’re on our very own personal journey.
To experience this “sense of discovery”, we had intended to go north – a direction that people from Munich rarely consider in their tour planning as they tend to succumb to the call of the mountains in the south. But even though we were pedalling without a plan, we eventually found ourselves heading in the direction of the majestic Alps after all, simply because we were afraid to end up back in conurban Munich after just a short ride.
We found what we weren’t looking for but hoping for
And yet, we managed to see places that had so far been uncharted territory on our personal maps. It took us a while to realise what made the region west of Lake Ammer look so exotic to us: Lech-Donau-Winkel is a so-called Ramsar region, meaning that it’s a wetland area which is considered one of Europe’s most important central habitats for migratory birds and waterfowl.
Instead of going on our umpteenth ride through the Bavarian postcard cliché, we spent that weekend cycling through landscapes that rather reminded us of places like Mississippi or Tennessee in the southern United States. After just four hours on the saddle – partly struggling with heavy rain and nasty headwinds – we felt that we had been out and about for much longer than any other time we had jumped on our bikes right at our own doorstep.
But the most important lesson we learned from our three-day adventure was something we all know but easily forget, namely that finding happiness on the saddle doesn’t depend on where we’re headed – as long as we manage to ignore distractions such as ambitious goals, capricious weather, gadgets, blind routines or everyday woes.
Getting lost around Munich is easy. And a luxury too, since the nearest train station home, an inn to fill your stomach or a guest house for the night is never more than 10 or 20 kilometres. You don’t even need a smartphone, a map or a guide. All you need is patience, time, an open mind and a bike that can take you much further than you may think.