Day 83. We are everywhere

Knut called himself a nomad, Knut the Icebear people called him. He asked for a cigarette. He sat on the bench behind my pink borrowed bike. When I told him I didn't smoke he asked for money. I looked at his bike. It was stuffed with things, all hidden and protected under a thick layer of plastic. It had been raining all morning. He recognised something in me. It was because of the shoes he said. I told him I didn't have a lot of money to spare.
He was frustrated and cynical. He complained about Turkish people making noise and Russians being violent. He talked without stopping once. He had been on the road for a long time. There was a time when he lived in Munich but his neighbours always drove him away, he had been unlucky he said. He pointed at his bike. He showed me the small tv he dragged around. He watched it at gas stations, or any other place where he could find a socket. He raised his voice at a man who passed us and stared at him.
He angrily discussed all the tourists here who wouldn't give him money, the woman who gave him a cigarette but didn't want to get too close to him.
I gave him some money. Who am I to judge?

I passed the cinema, A CINEMA! They were showing a movie I had been wanting to see, Ida. I went inside to ask if it was in the original language and got into a conversation with the owner who not only decides on the program, but also sells the tickets, makes the popcorn, cleans the building and does all the technical work involved. He proudly showed me the cinema theater and invited me to come and see the movie one of these days.

I bought souvenirs in the antiques shop. Old photos, magical images, a tiny silver spoon, cufflinks with birds. Small things. Beautiful things.

I biked home. The rain had stopped. Home.

I found an email from Christian. I had met him shortly in Passau and we had lunch the day after when I caught up on him. He was on his way to Budapest. Which meant he would cross the Maria Valeria Bridge inbetween Sturovo and Esztergom, where I had been the Bridge Guard in the Bridge Guard Art & Science Center for the bigger part of the year in 2005. It was a special time and these days, walking along the Danube, I often think about it, feeling tempted sometimes to just keep on walking and return, but my goal is a different one so I told people who passed me on the road about the bridge and they took part of me with them. Christian sent me a photo of the bridge and the "incredible sky" over it the day he crossed it. From the angle I could see where he had been standing, where I once stood, where possibly the Swiss couple I had met a few days before I met Christian had stood. I imagined him walking the streets of Esztergom, eating in one of the restaurants I enjoyed visiting, listening to this impossible language which I recognise so well but never managed to speak.

We meet and we continue on our travels but our roads keep crossing, old roads crossing new roads, walking in each others footsteps, meeting people knowing people we once lived around the corner with. We say the world is small but it isn't. We are small. And the world is big. But we look for each other, we need each other. We want to be connected. And the world gives us what we want. We see each other in people passing by, in newspapers, books. In bridges, trees, airplanes. We touch each other by looking at the sky, by listening to the winds, the cars rushing by. We leave traces, marks, memories, we are everywhere.


Day 82. Miracles never last long

There are days when you leave a campsite from hell with a big road running behind a wall 10 meters from your tent and a sunday gathering of christian choirs on the field on the left side, singing about Jesus since 8 in the morning (amplified) ready to continue all day, to find a fairytale house along the Danube where you get a cheap room with a balcony from where you can almost touch the boats that are passing by and in the empty living room - I am the only guest in the house - there is a choice between Bob Dylan, lute music from the 16th century and Charlie Parker with strings. The clouds that have been getting darker since the choir started singing even waited until I stepped inside, but not a minute longer. I took it as a sign. It will rain the coming days. It is time to practise staying.

 ...... and on a day like that you might end up drinking champaign with an 80 year old circus acrobate while a former pulmonologist - a physician who knows all about lungs - is preparing you a plaice (fish, no lungs there) in saffran sauce. And afterwards you can go for a stroll along the mighty Danube under your pink umbrella and fall asleep in a soft bed.

And then you wake up in the morning and you decide to stay two more nights to enjoy this small paradise, to work quietly, to hear yourself breath, to sit on your balcony and stare at the Danube, to rethink what has happened in the last 80+ days before you walk the final 180 kilometers, before you will arrive. And then the drilling starts. And when you walk to the other house where the breakfast is served you see the rock they are trying to drill away, it is massive, it is a monster rock, they are trying to master it and turn it into the foundation of a house. And the man who rented me the room in the fairytale house tells me there isn't really a problem, I can take the bike and cycle along the Danube and find a spot where it is quiet. And he doesn't understand how much I need a house today, how difficult it is to go back to the decisionmaking again, the ever returning question, "do I stay or do I leave?" And I almost fall in the trap to think it is unfair and I didn't deserve this but it is nonsense. On the road I have my human rights. They don't include silence and happiness. And tomorrow will be another day. I might still be here. Or on my way. In the end it is the same thing. It doesn't matter.


Day 81. A little girl

Some days seem to contain everything. I don't know if it has anything to do with my visit to the Mauthausen concentration camp yesterday. Yesterday there was nothing else. I only existed to witness. I took the images in, I didn't try to understand, there is no way to understand. Today I was back with myself. I slept in one of the best "wild" locations so far, close enough to the Danube to hear the water hit the stones when the big boats created waves but hidden well while still being in a small clearing, a little oasis. At night there had been fireflies, it was warm, there was no need to wake up with the sun to make sure I wouldn't be caught doing something illegal.

The uneasiness was still there in the morning. I remembered reading the story about the cap. How if you didn't have your cap in the morning, you would be shot. A man had been raped by one of the officers and his cap had been taken from him by that man. He knew it would mean he wouldn't survive the next morning. In the night he stole somebody elses cap, knowing that this man would be shot the next morning. And so it happened. What struck me was that the man who survived was named, he had told his story, he shared it with the world. And I wondered how you continued living your life after having been responsible for somebody elses death but I realised the only thing he could do was continue living in the best way possible. A life had been taken and he kept his. He should cherish it. And of course the question came up: What would you do? And I would like to tell myself I would never willingly be responsible for somebody elses death but I am not so sure. It is very probable I would have done the same.

It was a difficult day. I only have my one life and maybe I should say that after yesterday, I don't have a right to call my days difficult, but if I have to hold my own experiences against the whole world history I might as well stay at home and keep my head under the blankets. It was a difficult day compared to other days, maybe because it was a Saturday and the road was crowded and my light morning feeling didn't stay for too long. The fishing men were everywhere, sitting along the banks with their tents and barbecues, most of them not catching anything but feeding themselves with the sausages and hamburgers they brought along.

A hot day, a full day. Walking through villages surrounded by huge concrete walls to keep the fear of being flooded again away. Finding dead snakes, eggs without shells, empty bird nests. Finding the first "Brombeere" just when I longed for some fruit. Another Danube dive, maybe the last one. In Austria it seems to be more complicated to swim, there is more industry along the banks, they are
steeper, in fact I hadn't seen anybody in the water since the river changed from a clear stream into a cloudy one in Passau where the other big river, whose name I can't remember just now, flows into it.

I wanted today to be a happy day. And it was in its own way. But it wasn't the best day. I wanted it to be a happy day because it was Hedda's birthday today and her mother asked me to walk with her today. I always feel responsible when the day has been adopted by somebody, when somebody gave me something to get through the day. But I can't be responsible for what the day brings me. I can put emphasis on specific things, I can make the day look different and of course every day I only give an interpretation of it, a small piece, my own story. I was happy my visit to Mauthausen had been yesterday and not today, how on earth could I give a two year old girl a story about one of the most tragic things happening in human history? I thought of her inbetween the walking, the sweating, the greeting of tourists passing by on bikes all similar, all dressed similar and she made me smile, her innocence brought something light back into the day and I saw the world for what it was, an opportunity for a little girl to do anything she wanted to do, the same it is to me only because I try to be the small girl I once was, I try to trace her back, that is why I am on the road eating wild plants, finding a good shelter for the night, looking for the little things, the seemingly unimportant things, looking for smiles and small miracles. Hedda is there already, she is two years old today and she has everything. And she will loose it because she has to grow up but the secret is in finding it again.
Finding it again when you are old enough not to take it for granted but value it, cherish is, stay in it.

(today's story is for Hedda)

* the photographs I bought at an antique shop in Grein


Day 80. A beautiful day in Mauthausen

It was a beautiful sunny day in Mauthausen, a sign read "family friendly city" when I re-entered it after having visited the outskirts of town. Most houses were deserted but the traces of people were still there. Somebody had just been reading a book on the bench outside her house while drinking coffee. Flowers had been watered. The gardens were all in perfect order. Swimming pools looked shiny and tempting. When I walked through the city center I saw where they all were. Either on the terrasses drinking a cool drink or in the leisure center, swimming and sunbathing.
Earlier on, up on the hill from where you can see the mountains, I had seen swallows, lots of them, flying low over the concrete floors, circling around the stone buildings, almost touching the barbed wire.


Day 77. A lost day recovered in Linz

"In order to do what you do, you need to walk. Walking is what brings the words to you, what allows you to hear the rhythms of the words as you write them in your head. One foot forward, and then the other foot forward, the double drumbeat of your heart. Two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, two feet. This, and then that. That, and then this. Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body, and even if the words have meaning, can sometimes have meaning, the music of the words is where the meanings begin. You sit at your desk in order to write down the words, but in your head you are still walking, and what you hear is the rhythm of your heart, the beating of your heart."

Paul Auster, Winter logbook


Day 76. Damn

Every day I collect pieces of thread, ropes, strings, rubber bands and I tie them together in the order in which I find them. Every knot a story. Every line a piece of the road. Spheres, globes, condensed days. 
Unless it is really too heavy to carry, I take whatever I find on the road. Clean or dirty. Small or big. No exceptions.



Day 75. Choices

We choose every day, every moment of the day. We choose left or right, meat or fish, yes or no, blue or red. I find it hard to choose, but on the road I don't think about my choices too long. I trust my gut feeling. I decide quickly without thinking.

I had walked along the most beautiful part of the Danube, sat at a small semi island in the river for hours, reading, sleeping, meeting Christian again who now caught up on me and left me some food. I swam, I was slow. I didn't just want to walk through this landscape, I wanted to be in it.

I left when the afternoon was at its hottest and sweated my way to the nearest city. I walked along the boulevard, in search of a place to eat something but all the places looked fancy and dull. In the far distance something caught my eye. Under the big bridge with all the trafic.

I love nature but I also love the edges of the city. The unruly places where everything comes together. The down to earth corners where life shows itself without its shiny layers.
A small terrass under a noisy bridge, overlooking the Danube. A big shed-like structure with a bar, outside long tables and in the corner, a big grill. A choice of grilled sausage or grilled fish. Potato salad or bread. Sometimes choices are easy.
No plates, the fresh fish comes in a paper wrapping which serves as a plate. Although I recieved a fork and a knife, I ate with my hands. I cleaned them with the bread and ate it. A glass of simple wine. This must have been one of the best meals I had during my walk.

The grilling men asked about my walk. They wished me all the best. They waved me out.

The Danube was still there, straight now, no hills. I thought I saw mountains in the far distance but they were hardly visible. They looked like a fata morgana.

After a couple of kilometers, in the middle of nowhere, there were two restaurants in a bend in the river. I was thinking about coffee, Aiming for the left restaurant with the terrass at the water, where there were some last sunbeams. But when I passed the other one, I decided to ask if there was internet there and when the answer would be yes, I would stay there.


Now I imagine having gone to the other one. Having drunken my coffee, having walked on in search of a place to sleep. Having found some hidden corner somewhere, inbetween some bushes maybe, having secretly put up the tent again, ready to leave early in the morning.

But I didn't go to the other place. And so I met a group of men who were working in the area, securing companies for the danger of explosions. I recieved a gift for my walk from Werner, who was retired but got hired now and then when his expertise was needed. He asked the restaurant and hotel owner if I couldn't pitch my tent at their field. And he invited me for breakfast the next morning. We sat outside talking until it was late, we moved inside and continued talking until it was even later.

It was Werner's birthday. All I had to give was the image of C., my faithfull carier and companion on this trip, making it possible for me to walk 1500 kilometer in a comfortable way. Werner was aiming to walk the Compostella road in the fall but had difficulties carrying all the things he wanted to take, most important being his photo equipment to catch images of birds. I gladly gave him all the information he needed, happy again that just being somewhere can be meaningfull to others. And maybe not just in a practical way. Because again in meeting Werner I met somebody who was amazed by the simple fact of seeing somebody walk slowly through the world.


Day 74. The birthdays of many men

When I leave the Danube, will I be able to roll it up like a bright blue thread and put it in my pocket? I can try. There is no harm in trying. And my pockets are big. They should be able to hold a river.

I was meeting somebody today. We had met yesterday, on the bridge in Passau, both leaving. Christian was by bike, he had planned a resting day today. Which meant I would catch up on him. He invited me for lunch in the village where he was staying two nights.

The only place open on a saturday afternoon was the fancy hotel. A big group of people were in the middle of leaving very slowly. They had celebrated a wedding the evening before. Somebody walked around with the leftovers of the wedding cake. I got two big pieces.

A man with a French accent started talking to me and when Christian came back -he had been inside asking if it was possible to eat something-, he was delighted to find a fellow countryman. He hadn't met any French on the road. They switched to speaking French straight away and I listened, my French is very rusty when I'm not in France. Matthieu and Veronica had met in Rennes, the city where Christian had lived for a long time. In no time they had agreed to meet each other in August in France. Afterwards Christian thanked me for being the link, if I wouldn't have been at the bridge in Passau, he would have never met the two French and their small daughter. But I reminded him that if he would have chosen to take the other bridge in Passau, he would have never met me. It remains exciting how one decision leads to the next, also meaning there are many strings with possibilities we will never research, be in the middle of. What if ..... doesn't exist. Or maybe it does but in another dimension, layer, timespace, part of the matrix.

A collection of men's birthdays this weekend. My grandfather yesterday, my father today, his oldest grandson today, and both Shari Walls' -with whom I am walking today- father's and partner's birthday. And on Saturday I didn't know I was going to share a couple of beers and a long conversation with a man on Sunday who celebrated his birthday on that day. But more about that tomorrow.

I walk late often. I walked along the Danube at dusk. The beavers were out. Floating in the water nibbling on small branches, sitting in the grass on the river bank. So concentrated on their food, I could get quite close to them. It is an amazing landscape after Schlögen. The river bends, almost takes a 180 degrees turn but then decides to follow the same direction anyway and bends back. It has carved deep into the landscape. The hills on both sides are steep. Impossible to pitch a tent anywhere. But I am in no hurry at anytime. I just walk on until the proper opportunity presents itself.  Like an abandoned restaurant with a small wooden structure in front where they used to sell drinks and sausages. Where inbetween the counter and stack of tables there is just enough room for an air mattress. Where I can leave my tent in my cart and can even sit on a chair. Luxury comes in many shapes.


Day 73. Staying

Yesterday I didn't leave Passau. I stayed. I felt like staying. And at a café where I felt home because I drank my coffee there the day beford yesterday as well, I read an old text I wrote last year when I worked with some Pioneers in the forest in Sweden. It is on my blog "walking in circles", it is still very valid.

"Staying doesn’t mean being here. It doesn’t mean planning to come back. It doesn’t mean not leaving. Staying means knowing you’ve changed because of your stay here. Staying means leaving some of your fear behind. Staying means waking up, being happy and feeling as if you’ve always been here. And realising that here doesn’t mean a red house in Bonsäter but a body with some new scars and memories. Some very valuable ones."

Read the full text here:


And something else. The hotel I stayed for two nights wasn't shaped like a wave. It was shaped like a person resting. Der ruhende Mensch. An enormous person lying on his back looking at the clouds, looking at the stars, with me inside it dreaming.


Day 72. The lost days recovered

(Star sign Swan, sky atlas Uranometria)

I just discovered something strange. My walking schedule jumps from June 22 to 26. Three days are missing and all the dates after June 22 are on the wrong weekdays. I know it doesn't make a real difference because there will still be 25 walking days including today.
But it feels as if I've got three extra days or at least three open days without a person connected to them. I have to think about something special to do with them. The lost days. The lost days recovered.

Any suggestions?

(The schedule is here, if you're curious: http://www.asoftarmour5.blogspot.de/2014/03/99-days_23.html. You can also see there how neat I looked at the start. Haha. Seems like a lifetime ago.)

Today I will cross the border, from Passau the left bank of the Danube is Germany, the right bank is Austria. A ferry will bring me there about 14 kilometers from the Rotel Inn. A design hotel, shaped like a wave, beautifully situated on the Danube bank. All rooms have a river view. There is a spacious terrass and the entrance hall is filled with graffiti art. All the rooms are 6m2 big. Maybe I shouldn't use the word big. But the rooms have all you need. A private space, a comfortable bed the width of the room (1.50), a river view. Cheaper than a youth hostel shared room bunkbed. I slept well there last night.

I have to arrange my internet in Austria. I might be off the radar for a while. Or maybe not. You never know.

In the meantime there is a mystery to solve. I find a lot of dead moles on the road. Sad, but dead animals are always a part of the walking. I remember one day when I only saw dead animals in all sizes, ranging from a baby mouse to a deer. That is an exception though. Most of the time they are very much alive. I wonder about the moles though. Does it have anything to do with the Danube? Do they drown in their tunnels? Water in their lungs?

On the road now. Lets find the border.


Day 71. Turning into a story

There are two flows of travellers on this road. There are the bikers and occassional walker on the "Radweg", the bike trail and there are people in canoes in the Danube. They hardly ever mix. Two seperated worlds. Different kind of people. Water people and earth people.

The man paddled up to me when I was standing on the bank. "So you are the famous walker?" He said. "They were talking about you in the village where I stayed."
I suspect people talk about me but it hardly ever catches up on me. Early today I had been talking to a man and his dog. Actually I was talking to a biker who was curious about my walk and the man with the dog walked up and joined us. The biker went on and I walked together with the dogman for a while until he had to take a left turn to get home. I suspect he was the source. I smiled. I like turning into a story. And I like it being a story about some woman who walks, somebody without a name, a story that will lead a life of its own. The main result of my walk lies in there. In bringing a new story into the world. Something I can't control. Something I won't have any documentation of. 

Konrad had left from Ulm and had been planning to paddle to Vienna but he missed his wife and was thinking about returning earlier, finish at Linz. "The Danube will still be there next year" he said. He was filled with wonder about his journey. He never had the opportunity to go on a long trip on his own. Until last year he had been a farmer and a teacher, teaching about farming. "I think we create the world by moving through it," he said. He told me about the floating feeling that remained with him in the evening after he got out of his canoe. Sitting at a table eating diner, drinking beer and still feeling the movement of the waves, the body remembering the water. I asked if it was still there in the morning but being stable in a bed or on an air mattress always removed the wonderful feeling, he said. He tried to be in the moment but he found it hard to be there, he had the feeling he was always in front of it or behind it. Maybe it is the water, I wondered. On the water you are always in movement. When you walk you can stand still. Your own body determines your speed. On the water you aren't in charge. Maybe you think you are but you aren't.
My leg injury came up, he showed me the same plant I had been using. Beinheil. He used it for his back. 

We talked books. His one book on the road was Marquez' 100 years of solitude. Last winter it was the first winter he was without a job. Retired. He had read Tolstoy's War and Peace and Joyce's Ulysses. He had been thinking about time a lot. It seemed to pass so much quicker now he had so much of it on his hands. "How is it possible" he asked "that I leave at 8, I paddle a bit, look around me, and suddenly three hours have passed?" "What happened in that time? Where did it go?" I couldn't answer him.

In the meantime a man from another village had joined us. He was just sitting there, listening to us. Having a break in his walk. I wondered what he would tell in his village later on.

For some reason we got into talking about the big world matters. Politics. Refugees. Borders. But we were better at the small matters, the ones that were closer to us at the moment.

One thing that bothered him was how during his life he had always been striving for recognition. And still. "Maybe even in this conversation" he said. He was a very honest man.
Maybe we always do, even when we aren't aware of it. But the border between sharing something or wanting something, giving attention or taking attention, is a thin line. I am struggling with it all the time. Even in this writing. Especially in my writing. Choosing what to say and what to leave unsaid. And do I really prefer to be the nameless woman who walks through Europe with a strange outfit over the artist in the three piece walking suit who is working on small projects on her way and talks to people about living your life in a different way?

The man from the village had walked on. We moved on too. But for a long time afterwards I thought about our small meeting.

In the afternoon I reached Passau. I found a tiny room in a hotel next to the Danube. It was shaped like a wave. All rooms overlooked the big river. I thought how wonderful it would be if at night the whole building would softly move so you would have the feeling of being on the water. Being rocked into a deep sleep.

(todays story is for Glen Stoker)


Day 69. Paradise

I stayed another day. I overheard two bikers talking about their journey. One of them said "When it is not the journey but the destination you are looking for, straight roads are paradise."


Day 68. The monster plant.

A resting day. I didn't move. Time for an old story.

In Bamberg I slept on Susann's couch for three nights. The day before I left she showed me the monster plant. It was driving her crazy. A year earlier she had received the plant at a flee market as a gift, an extra because she had bought something else. It was a small plant, a plant she didn't know. She took it home, nursed it, gave it proper care like she did with all her plants and in no time the plant had grown into a big plant. It developed fleshy leaves and on the leaves baby plants were growing with small roots. They fell off by themselves, ready to grow into big plants too. There was no end to the babies and the plant itself kept growing too, having space for more baby plants.

Susann feels responsible for her plants. When they have babies she can't just let them die. Even when there are hundreds of them. She didn't know what to do. She had given them to all her friends, not telling them she was giving away a curse. When I was there she even went back to the flee market to search for the woman who had given her this big responsibility.

I liked the monster plant.

I asked for two baby plants and Susann asked me if I was sure. Of course I was. She carefully packed them in a matchbox with some moist paper. She made me promise to open the box now and then so they would get some sunlight. Give them some water from time to time.

The last holiday weekend, when I was stuck to a campsite because of my leg, I built them a small flightcase. They seem to be quite happy there. I hope to get them safely back to Amsterdam. Before that, I will built them a temporary home in the Nomadic Village. A tiny movable garden.

A quote from Saint Exupéry's "Wind, Sand und Sterne" to end with:

" Heute abend haben wir auf der Festung [Port-Étienne, Sahara] gesessen, und der Hauptmann-Befehlshaber hat uns seinen Garten gezeigt. Er hat sich aus Frankreich drei Kisten wirkliche Erde kommen lassen, die viertausend Kilometer weit gereist ist. Darin pflegt er drei grüne Kräutlein, deren Blätter wir mit dem Finger streicheln wie grosse Kostbarkeiten. Wenn der Hauptmann von dieser Anlage spricht, nennt er sie seinen Park. Und wenn der Sandsturm weht und alles ausdörrt, wird der Park vorsorglich in den Keller gesetzt."

(todays story is for Fiona Waddle)


Day 67. Fear

I walk with two people today. One of them is a friend from Amsterdam, it is his birthday today. The other one I don't know, but she knows Dee with whom I have been walking yesterday. She chose this day to be close to her friend. The connection is in the two days, touching each other, its border being midnight. The connection is also in me, walking with both of them. I always like connecting things, people.

It was a strange border, a strange midnight. I escaped but it might very well have been from nothing. There is one rule on this journey though, a golden one, one I never break.

Rule number 1: always trust your gut feeling

Actually it happened already past midnight. I had been seduced by the moon into walking forever but my legs told me to stop at some point. Two kilometers from a small village, nothing but empty roads, I followed a small dirt road leading into the woods and found a good spot on the edge of it, overlooking the field with the still full moon hanging over it and the promise of a visible sunrise in the morning. I unpacked, pitched my tent and in the middle of it a car arrived, stopped at the beginning of the road. People with flashlights. I didn't move. They turned off their lights. I looked for my knife and my phone and when I looked back at where I had seen them stop, I wasn't sure if they were still there. Maybe they just checked something on the car. I had no idea how visible I was in the moonlight.
I waited, maybe 15 minutes. Nothing happened. But just when I had decided to continue building my tent, another car arrived and just before it stopped and switched off its lights I saw there were three cars now. Maybe they just wanted to stare at the moon. Maybe they were hunters or fishing men. They couldn't know I was here. But I decided on leaving anyway.
It was a good exercise in packing my things without a sound in the dark. I couldn't leave the way I came so I walked through the woods and fields, back to the village I had passed. I found a tiny spot very close to the village in some bushes on eye level with the young corn. It was two 'o clock and still warm. There was no place for my tent. I unrolled my sleeping bag, watched the moon for a bit, drank some wine, set my alarm for 5.30 and slept like a baby.

Today, while walking, the question came back to me people ask me often. Aren't you afraid? It seems a ridiculous question when you follow the news, which I haven't or if you are reading a book by Saint Exupéry about his years as a pilote opening up the first mail routes across the Sahara and the Andes, which I have been reading in the last days. In those days the planes weren't always trustworthy. A lot went wrong. A lot of the pilotes died or had to escape extreme circumstances. He describes how in really dangerous situations there is no fear.

In a restaurant I heard two people proudly tell they had biked 600 kilometers. I smiled, but I know my own 1025 kilometers in 67 days are little in other peoples' eyes. I wrote one day about how in the
middle of the afternoon on a hot day I had a hard time finding water. In Saint-Exupéry's book
"Wind, Sand und Sterne" I read how he crashed in the Sahara with his mechanic and walked 200 kilometers in three days with hardly any water and not a single drop on the third day.

You only fear the things you don't know and they are different for everybody. There is no use in compairing fear either. The best way to overcome your fear is to get acquainted with it. When the cars stopped at the beginning of the road where my tent was I had to fight an urge to walk up there to make sure there was nothing to worry about. I was tired, I didn't want to move, and through the years I learned how fear works in my own small and humble way. And when I think about fear, when I hear the question, I always think about the people who live or work in really dangerous situations.

I don't want to compare myself with those early pilots, or people in war situations, explorers in unknown territories. What I am doing is so much smaller than what they did, are doing. What I do like though, is that in a way there isn't a big gap between my life and the life of the people I meet on the road. I didn't learn specific skills for what I am doing, I didn't train, I didn't prepare in extreme ways. Most people I meet can do what I am doing. Or could have done when they were younger or fitter. I am close to them, we move through the same world. The difference between them and me is that to me it makes complete sense to do this. To them it wouldn't. Still there is something in them that understands. We are all walking creatures, walking is our natural state. We all long or some sort of freedom.

People I meet often think that freedom is in sleeping in the wild or walking 96 days without planning your days ahead, in not having any ties that prevent you from leaving or doing the things you always wanted to do. There is some truth in that, of course. But true freedom is to be free of fear. The truth lies in there. And I am walking in order to learn that. My feet bring me there slowly. Like Saint Exupéry's airplane takes him there.

"Mir geht es nicht um die Sache der Fliegerei. Für mich ist das Flugzeug kein Zweck, es ist ein Mittel. Mein Leben schlage ich nicht für die Fliegerei in die Schanze, so wenig wie der Bauer für den Pflug arbeitet. Aber mit dem Flugzeug verlässt man die Städte und ihre seelenlose Rechnerei und findet auf anderem Wege die bäuerliche Wahrheit wieder. Man lebt mit Winden, Sternen, Nacht und Sand, arbeitet als Mensch und sorgt sich als Mensch. Man misst sich mit den Kräften der Natur und wartet auf den neuen Tag wie der Gärtner aufs Frühjahr. Man ersehnt den Flughafen wie ein gelobtes Land und sucht seine Wahrheit in den Sternen."

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "Wind, Sand und Sterne".

(todays story is for Peggy Graves and Elspeth Owen)

Day 57, 58, 59, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67


Day 66. Two librarians

Books are my only true addiction. I can live without wine, chocolate, fruit, friends, family, fortune, fame, money. But books?
When things are difficult on the road I sooth myself by reading. In cities I visit bookshops. The small houses with free books on the road are oases. I take a book every time I find one. I only look at the small ones. It is a torture sometimes. And sometimes I can't help myself and I take a bigger one, drag it around until the weight is torturing me more than the idea of not being able to continue reading the book and I leave it behind or sent it to Austria.

Two years ago I was a walking librarian. I walked from the west of Belgium to the east of Belgium with a group of artists in a Walking Festival called Sideways. I was "hired" by Dee Heddon, the Walking Library was her project (in collaboration with Misha Myers). We carried books with us every day. We read from the books, we collected new books, we set up the library in different ways every weekend. All the books in the library were based on the question " What book would you take with you on a journey if you could only take one book?" My choice was Calvino's Invisible Cities. I thought about taking it again on this journey, but I spent so much time with it in the last years already. Other books deserve attention too.

I brought four books this time. Four small ones. I brought digital books as well, but that's a different thing.
The SAS Survival Guide by John Wiseman, On Walking (written for the Sideways Festival by Brendon LaBelle), les Noeuds, a book about knots I bought for myself as a birthday present on my long walk to the south of France last year and The very Lowly. A meditation on the life of Francis of Assisi by Christian Bobin.
I replaced the SAS Guide by the digital version and I sent off the Brendon Labelle. The other two are still with me and I read them every couple of days. Other books came and went.

Today I am walking with Dee. She is far away in the UK. But there were some unexpected fellow walkers again. It isn't the first time. Bikers pass me, stop, get off their bikes and walk with me so we can be in the same speed and talk. This time it was a Swiss couple. Or actually a Czech/Italian couple, living in Switzerland. We talked in a mixture of English and French. Regina asked me dozens of questions. I loved her curiosity. Daniele, who loved her and therefore her curiosity too, told me when we finally were about to move in different speeds again that probably in the evening she would come up with a lot of questions she would have wanted to ask me.
They were biking along the Danube, all the way. From Donau-Eschingen, the source, to Budapest. It meant they would cross the Maria Valeria Bridge, the bridge connecting Hungary and Slovakia. A long time ago I was artist in residence there, Bridge Guard at the Bridge Guard Art & Science Center. My love for the Danube started there. Every day I crossed the bridge, I walked the Danube banks on both sides.

They were nice company. It was like meeting old friends you haven't seen in a long time. And I very much liked knowing where they were going, in the next week I would imagine them passing all the places I once stayed for special reasons, Vienna, Bratislava, Samorin, Sturovo, Esztergom, Budapest. Like messengers. Connecting parts of my past. Rolling out a thread I lost somewhere. Reconnecting places. Making me want to follow in their footsteps. Footsteps stepping in my old footsteps.

I wasn't surprised when Regina told me she worked in a big art library in Genève. She was a librarian.

Later on I read on Dee's facebookpage that today is her mother's birthday. She hadn't told me. Her mother died young, she was only 42. Dee thanked her for laying such a profound foundation for her life in so little time.
I will be 42 in september. There is still a lot I would like to do. But there have been moments during my walk when I thought I wouldn't mind if there wouldn't be another day. I am happy there are though. Many I hope. For myself and both librarians I walked with today. And you reading this.


Flying lesson

Day 65. In search of silence

                   (C. and the moon)

"One day, I watched the sun setting forty-four times," you told me. And a little later, you added: "You know ... When one is so terribly sad, one loves sunsets ..."
" The day you watched those forty-four sunsets, were you sad?" I asked.
But the little prince made no reply.

(The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Friendly meetings in the morning. The gift bearing couple from the evening before passed me again. They seemed to be slower on their bikes than I am on my feet. They go with the flow. They slept in, in a field. We said goodbye again, bis zum nächsten Mal.
Over coffee, when I was planning to write some reports, I talked to a man in the railway cafe. He was walking to the Czech Republic. He told me about a long walk he made in Lapland, where the nights were light, where he slept during the day and walked during the night. Padjelanta. I wrote it down.

It was the first day in a week I didn't notice my hurt leg with every step, it wasn't as hot as the day before, my head was empty and filled itself with new ideas from time to time. I felt light and I decided to spent the rest of the afternoon walking without talking to people.

That wasn't easy.

The first man didn't understand. He had passed me before, I recognised his face. He stepped off his bike, waited until i had finished taking a photo of a field. He started talking. I tried explaining I wasn't talking, without using words, but he thought I was unable to speak. When I told him I wasn't talking today, he started asking questions. I repeated my words, said it was a day to be silent. He asked if I couldn't speak just a little bit. I told him the road had been long and full, today no words. He thought he understood. He said "Yes, I understand, you are "kaput", broken." But I wasn't. Even with a soar leg I was more whole than ever. That is why I wanted to be silent. To realise that. But I didn't want to explain. I waved and walked on.

Half an hour later a man passed on his motorbike. He stopped, drove back, stopped next to me. "Today I don't talk," I said. "I've been on the road so long and talked so much, today I need to be silent." He said he understood. He said he just wanted to watch. Again I was in the middle of
photographing something and for the next few minutes he just stood there and stared at my cart and
me. I felt uncomfortable. I waved and walked on.

It is difficult to be silent amongst people. And I also found it difficult not to respond to people who want to know about what I am doing. They are my audience and I feel a responsibility towards them. But I need a break from time to time and I could look for a place without people and sit still, hide, but usually the break is in the walking. The walking clears my head, gives me piece of mind. On my resting days I talk, I embroider, I write. In the evenings I take care of my body, my tent, my laundry. When I walk I rest.

After a third unsuccessfull non-meeting I needed a break from trying to be silent and I found a lonely silent spot along the Danube bank, I built another fridge for a bottle of beer -another gift from the gift-bearing couple-, washed my cloths, swam, prepared some food. That is when two mothers with their two kids arrived. There were 1000 places where they could have installed themselves, I had made sure to skip the spots close to the biketrail, the long danube bank was empty as far as I could see. They seated themselves two meters from my right and started talking loudly.

I packed and moved. Building a one beer bottle fridge in a river is easy. Finding new silence is easy
too. The Danube made some noise but that was ok. I read Saint Exupéry's "The little Prince".

I stayed until eight, left before the sun set. I never see the sun set during my walk. I walk east every day.
I sometimes see the moon rise though. I did today. A full moon, glorious in a clear sky. Far away I
saw some lightning. I walked in the moonlight. Silent. I wondered if I should walk all night.



Day 64. Water like money

Early in the morning one of the legs of my recently found pink sunglasses fell off. I don't know if it was a sign of something, but looking back at the day it could very well have been. The pink, rosy feeling I had had since I put on the sunglasses and passed Walhalla, slowly disappeared. I promised myself a proper break somewhere with coffee, icecream maybe, but all day I didn't pass a cafe or restaurant that was open. It was hotter than hot and my leg was painful. I wanted to reach the next campsite, 32 kilometers. Too far for my leg but a big thunderstorm would hit this area by the end of the day and I thought it wise not to sleep in the woods. At some point an interesting looking couple passed me on their bikes. They turned their heads, hesitated but biked on. They looked well equiped but in an alternative way. Not the nice shiny bags, helmets, biking gear but casual, improvised. These moments of recognition are nice. Real travellers passing each other.

I carried a few liters of water with me but not having found a cafe on the road to refill, I found myself without a drop in the middle of the afternoon. The bikers' oasis I had aimed for was deserted and although it said "open" there was nobody to take my order. The Gasthof was closed too. I rang a few doorbells to ask for water but nobody was home. The bank was open though and willing to give me water. Water like money.
I was slow, the afternoon was ending, the road was empty. Out of nowhere the couple from earlier on passed me. This time they stopped. They walked with me. We talked about travelling, about the things we carried with us, our handy equipment, we exchanged travellers' secrets. His favorite item was the foldable bucket he had with him. Lightweight, very small after folding it, but it could hold 10 liters of water. Handy for cooling feet and beers but most of all to get water from places that are hard to reach by tying a rope to it, for example on a bridge over the water. They used it to wash themselves in the mornings and evenings. Like me they were sleeping outside as much as possible.
They gave me gifts. A homeopathic medicin against tick bites. Small block for quick fires. A bottle of beer for the evening. We drank some rum while walking. I told them about the Beinheil, the Leg Cure, more commonly known as comfrey. He told me about a plant you can use for blisters, I don't known its English or German name, in Dutch it is "weegbree" but specifically the species with wide leaves.

They drove off but he returned to give me the rest of the rum. To ease the pain in my leg. To return to the pink, rosy feeling.
I drank it while walking. It worked. I arrived at the campsite just after nine. It was getting dark. My leg was happy.
A small army of white expensive big clean mobile homes were standing in line, neatly placed in straight rows. Grey haired heads turning around to watch me. There was nobody at the reception so I walked into the restaurant, my wagon still attached to me like it is usually when I enter a place. A woman came up to me and scolded me for entering with my wagon. "You can't do that!" she said. "You wouldn't take a bike inside here either, would you?" she said angrily. "First put it outside, then you can register." "Bye," I said, turned around and walked off. Relieved.

I walked on. The storm never reached me. It was still warm. I found a good spot in a dense forest. In case it would rain at night. But it didn't.

(todays story is for Jenna Tonking)


Day 63. The people on the road.

In the morning i observed two people in Regensburg city center. The first one was dusting the wall of his shop. With a small brush he removed whatever had gathered there during the previous day - I imagined him doing this every morning before opening hours - inbetween the layers of stones. In the shop window I saw expensive gold jewellery.
I also saw a woman walking the city centre streets around the same time. With one hand she was pushing an empty pram, with the other one she was holding her baby, breastfeeding him while walking, her left breast in plain sight. I liked how she was moving around and I told her. She answered "well, he is hungry, and when he is hungry I feed him". It reminded me of an evening when I was having diner with the girls who so kindly hosted me at Schwarzerden near Bamberg and we talked about Maslov's pyramid.
Later on I saw the woman again, breasts covered. She was asking people for money to buy food.

I wandered the streets of Regensburg, it was hot. I left late in the afternoon, following the Danube. I met a young sheperd who was walking with his sheep. He asked me about the plants I had hanging from the side of my cart. I told him I was drying them to use as tea. When the weather is so hot it only takes two days. I had thought about building a small rack so I could even collect more. I had though about building many things.

He walked in that area every day. We talked about how it doesn't matter if you walk on and on or if you walk the same route every day, since everything is different always. He told me that since he walks along the Danube Biketrail he often talks to people and a lot of them tell him they would like to do what he is doing. He laughed and said they've got no idea what it is he is doing. They all think he just slowly wanders around in the sun every day. I laughed too. I knew what he meant.

I ate some raw sugar beet. I found a pair of pink sunglasses. I reached Walhalla. I walked on.

I walked until it was dark. A warm night. A bright moon.


Day 62. The guardian angel returns

Inbetween the parakeet shelter and the institute for empirical market analysis, both located in tiny villages somewhere along the Naab river, I stopped to eat something. The temperature was somewhere inbetween 30 and 35 degrees. I realised I had forgotten one of my waterbottles at the campsite. It wasn't too dramatic since I had another 1,5 liter on me but it would mean asking for water somewhere soon.

10 minutes after my break, walking in the blazing sun, a car slowed down next to me, a man leaned out of the window with a bottle of water, asking if I needed it. I accepted the bottle,  thanked him, he drove off and I wondered if it had been my guardian angel again. He didn't exactly look like the man who had tried to save me earlier in my walk but he could have been his brother. I looked back, but the car had disappeared already.

I like the idea of my guardian angel driving around in a car. It makes sense. If he would walk too he would never manage to be there in time when I really needed help.

I crossed a river. A big one. I thought I recognised it. The Danube. Reunited al last. There was a time when I walked along the Danube almost every day, when I was a bridgeguard, when I lived on its bank, when I dropped new thoughts in the water while walking from Slovakia to Hungary in 711 steps. The Maria Valeria Bridge. My feet were 10 years younger then.

I stopped at some stone steps leading into the water. I helt my hurt right leg in the Danube. Holy water. As long as I believed in it. And then a white carrot appeared, hovering over one of the steps in the water. A similar carot to the one I had eaten an hour earlier because I was curious what was growing in the field I passed. I am not sure if it was for human consumption, I think not, but the taste wasn't bad.

A white carrot to lure me into the water. The river must have recognised me too.
I didn't give in. Yet. But I did later. I love to swim. And I love the Danube. How could I resist?

Somewhere in the afternoon I arrived in Regensburg. I had planned to walk on but my leg resisted. I didn't mind. I found a place to spent the night, I walked through the friendly city, I joined the people sitting on the stone walls along the river, dangling their legs, eating pizza, laughing. A warm evening, the bright moon was reflected in the water.

If I ever live in a city again it has to be one with a river running through it.


Day 61. Street 23

I withdrew. I built up walls. In the mornings early, before anybody was up, I searched the campsite for comfrey, Beinheil, to put on my hurt ankle. I listened to the birds. And when the people started shouting their good mornings to each other across the busy lanes, when they turned on their radios, started popping their beer bottles, I put on my headphones.
My wall consisted of music. It was medicine at the same time, maybe for my leg, defenitely for my soul. Bach's cello suites, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, John Cage's Six Melodies, Steve Reich's Proverb, some Pärt. And at the middle of the day, the temperature still rising, people being at their noisiest, around two, just when I listened to Satie's Petite Ouverture A Danser, out of nowhere a huge hare ran passed my tent.

Satie owned 14 similar suits. He wore one until it had completely worn out and then moved to the next suit. When he died there were still 6 unused, brand new suits in his closet.

I lived in Strasse 23, Street 23. You can imagine how big the campsite was, knowing that my street wasn't the last one. On regular occasions announcements were made through a speaker system. Every time I was afraid my name would be called out and every time I realised nobody really knew I was here.

I was lucky. My street was a quiet one. To my right a couple in their seventies if not eighties, sleeping in a tent too small to stand upright in. To my left a lonely rider who took off in the mornings and returned dusty in the late afternoon.

For three days I moved around on the small field that had been assigned to me, trying to stay hidden behind the hedge, moving from corner to corner, avoiding the sun. Temperatures were tropical. I rested my leg and couldn't keep myself from staring at the numberplate of a campervan further down the road. LAUFN 25. The German word for "walking".

I embroidered a small lake on my jacket. A lake in my favorite colour, a blue green, Clarissa's favorite colour, the lake Ineke asked me to look for. I embroidered a stream flowing into the lake, Sarah's stream. I embroidered a crowd of people. And I made sure there was comfrey, a big plant with purple flowers. Even though the thread I embroidered it with was white.

Mountains appeared. A huge mountain range. I chose the darkest blue I could find. Blue as a warm summer night.

(todays story is for Daisy Winnifred)


Day 60. Beinheil

Obligatory resting day. Turned my two broken solar systems into one functioning one. Dug a small fridge for one bottle of beer. Searched for plants to heal my hurt leg. Found comfrey, which in Dutch is called "smeerwortel" and in German is nicknamed "Beinheil", legfix. Used the handkerchief I found yesterday as a bandage.



Day 59. Knödeleuropa

I've never really been to Austria. I was in Vienna once, but that isn't Austria, that's Vienna.
Today is Sarah's birthday and she introduced the term "Knödeleuropa" to me. She heard it being mentioned by a Czech writer and it reminded her of her childhood in Tirol: Speck (bacon), Knödel, Holunderlimonade (elderberry lemonade), Patschen (I had to look that up myself, a sort of house shoe, but different than Schlapfen!), woolen cardigans, Blauburgunder (wine), a meadow filled with flowers, a stream, cowbells. She was hoping I would encounter some of this today.

I had my doubts. Not about her memories, I liked them a lot. She called them nostalgic, cliché, but there is nothing wrong with clichés. To me it all sounded sort of romantic. Beautiful. Silent. An innocent world.

After a  cold rough night in the woods with perfect silence apart from an atmospheric owl, terrible nightmares haunting me all night, I woke up with a sore leg. I had stepped in a ditch the day before without noticing it. Just above my ancle it was badly swollen. What to do? Become friends with the pain and not walk too far.

The sky was a perfect blue. I had miraculously pitched my tent on the one spot where the sun peeped through a hole in the forest roof between 7 and 8 and I got out my solar panel, the one that was still working. Or had until that moment. I though about all the days with grey skies when I had tried to catch some sunbeams with my two solar systems and now when there was finally an unlimited supply of sun, both of them had died on me.

I sat in the early morning sun and soaked it up myself. Shook off the nightmares. Walked.

I walked through Kallmüntz, an artist village. Pittoresque. Aesthetically correct. It had everything you wanted from a perfect tiny town. Even a big name connected to it. Apparently Kandinsky stayed there for a while. A castle, a river, cute houses. Galleries and cafés. I quickly made my way through the city center into the outskirts. Too perfect for me. I would have to drink my coffee somewhere else.

I took the first opportunity. A Gasthof next to the river. I ordered my daily cappucino. The waitress was dressed in a Bavarian traditional dress. She was curious about my walk. And after I told her all about it, she offered me a free meal. I accepted, checked the menu and there it was. Knödel with pork belly. And a Holunder schorle.

Knödeleuropa straight into my stomach. I loved it.

And when I had finished my meal, two people joined me at my table. We talked. I told them I had slept in the woods. The woman told me she had difficulties finding somebody to take care of her house in the woods when they are travelling because people don't want to live in the woods. We exchanged phonenumbers. And the man took the broken cable of my solar panel and promised to drive to Regensburg and get me a new one and deliver it at the campsite I was heading towards.

I walked. Along meadows with flowers. Along a beautiful stream. With a painful leg. With a full stomach.

(today's story is for Sarah Wasch)


Day 58. Things

It doesn't happen when I consciously ask for something I would like to have, but when there is something that might come in handy, I often find it along the road just when I was thinking about it. Usually small things. Things I wouldn't buy myself. Like the black marker I thought about in order to get rid of the ugly orange branding on my solar panel. Or the small cotton bag when I wanted to have some things close at hand. Specific books. Reflectors for my cart. Sometimes it is almost scary. Today I was buying some food items at the Netto supermarket. I always have a plastic bag with food hanging on the left side of my cart but at some point the bag starts to falls apart. I wondered if I should buy one of the more expensive ones, but I didn't want to spend money on something with a brandname on it, so I didn't.

Only half an hour later I passed a picknick table and next to the waste basket there was an exact copy of the Netto bag I didn't buy earlier. There was a small roll of big blue new garbage bags in it which could be a nice replacement for my lost flat foldable chair/doormat/pillow. And there was something else in the bag. I didn't really need new shoelaces but my shoes were defenitely excited by the idea of exchanging boring brown for fancy red.

I like things. In the first package I send over to Vienna when I had collected too many of the rope balls I make every day, there are two big screws I carried along for a while because I was sure they might come in handy at some point. They didn't but I got attached to them, they screwed themselves into my mind so I couldn't throw them away. For now.

Things. "For people inhabit a world that consists, in the first place, not of things but of lines. After all, what is a thing, or indeed a person, if not a tying together of the lines - the paths of growth and movement - of all the many constituents gathered there?
Originally, 'thing' meant a gathering of people, and a place where they would meet to resolve their affairs. As the derivation of the word suggests, every thing is a parliament of lines." (Tim Ingold in "Lines. A brief history").

I walk alone but the people are in the things I encounter. They are connected to things. To specific flowers, tools, means of travel. To animals sometimes. To a kind of food, a specific drink, a colour, a smell. There is always an anecdote or a memory connecting the thing to the person. Sometimes a collection of things and people get connected. They form a line, a string, I roll them up in my mind and carry the ball with me on that day.

John Deer tractors, a light greenish blue, mountaintops, red bull, rabbits, roses, rivers, white polkadots on a blue background, the smell of beeswax, strawberries, donkeys, shiny things, magpies, stuffed courgette flowers, cats, a small paper boat, big chunks of cheese, watery vegetable soup, green sox, labyrinths, magnificient pies, acorns, four leaved clovers, hoopoes.

(todays story is for Felieke, Jan and Felix)

Inbetween thoughts


My ipad is actually a portal into another world, but only for very small creatures.