From Munich to Athens: a summer of bars (of protein), (handle)bars and thunderstorms.
Updated: Jan 7
Teresa and I decided to take part in Lebanon on Wheels whilst taking a walk through Hyde Park in November last year. What started off as a joke quickly turned into reality. Fast forward one year, I am sitting down in the library back at university trying to put this experience into words.
This summer, my friend and I cycled from Munich to Athens. Two bikes, four bags, countless protein bars and sunshine. More importantly, a lot of kilometres. Teresa and I had known about this project since its inception four years ago. We had heard about the pain and difficulties of former cyclists but equally about the joy and reward that reaching the final destination brings. It is of course, at the end of the day, about raising money for a good cause. We did it to raise funds for the education of disabled children in Lebanon which is what got me interested in the project in the first place. Yet if I am being honest, I also did it for myself. I hate cycling. To me, it was less about the cycling than about the challenge. I wanted to be outside of my comfort zone, to push the limits of my fitness and to challenge my friendship with Teresa (if you read this, I hope you still like me).
We started off in Munich on August 2nd, we meant to leave Marienplatz at 9am but ended up leaving two hours later: I was late, we forgot to fill up our water bottles. As we stocked up our protein bar supply, we were asked questions by curious pedestrians who saw our equipment and shirts, but most importantly, we needed the perfect first picture. It quickly became clear that I was going to be responsible for documenting our journey (on this note, follow Lebanononwheels on Instagram), whereas Teresa would be responsible for a much more exciting task: Navigation. Having heard various horror stories about google maps from the other teams, Teresa was the ultimate navigation hero. We never (ever!) went the wrong way. That was nice especially as we didn’t want to add additional kilometres to already gruelling 120 kilometre days. 120km days weren’t part of the plan until after we crossed the alps. During these difficult first days we still had a lot of energy and we managed to stay motivated throughout. Pro tip: during your water breaks, you should dance all your frustration off! It worked for us.
After crossing the alps, we reached Italy and experienced our first storm just after Bolzano. Our bikes needed a check-up which forced us to wait until the afternoon to start cycling. The weather was bad and it quickly got dark. It started thundering and we were cycling on an open field. As lightning and hail forced us to cycle as fast as we possibly could and would throughout our journey, I said a little prayer as Teresa tried to carefully hint to me that we, cyclists on an open field, were actually quite susceptible to lightning. I pretended I was aware of that, but really, I would have preferred it if she hadn’t told me. We continued cycling to the next town, found the first available place to sleep and took our first and only emergency stop. We later learned that a person on a mountain bike was struck by lightning that night.
Having survived our first thunderstorm, we were looking forward to being able to cycle through the sunny south. Thinking back, we were naive to think that heat would be nicer than rain. In all honesty, anything would have been nicer than such intense heat. When we reached our first stop on the Italian east coast, Rimini, we got a first taste of what was to come with forty degree temperatures. The further south we got, the smaller the roads became, the more carelessly cars drove and the earlier we had to get up. This resulted in us waking up at 5.30am every morning to get as much cycling done before noon. We would then wait out the hottest hours of the day in the shade of a café and continue along our merry way from the late afternoon until the evening. This way, nights got shorter and our energy level faded as we were desperately awaiting our first day of rest on day fourteen. Cycling down the Adriatic coast, we were hosted by fantastic and generous people, which was a way to experience Italian hospitality (especially with regards to food!) to an unimaginable level. One of my favourite moments was when we changed the tube of my bike behind a gas station in the heat of the afternoon. We were very visibly frustrated about the situation, when a man who had seen us from across the street, came over with a can of freshly brewed coffee.
It was only once we got unto the ferry to Patras that we realized that we would actually succeed and make it to Athens. It was then that I realized that to everyone who thought we wouldn’t make it, because we were “just girls” (what does that even mean?) or because we aren’t “real” athletes (so what?), it must have been like a punch in the face. At least, I like to think so.
We arrived in Athens after 20 days of cycling: 1,700 kilometres later, I can proudly say that I still I hate cycling, I still love Teresa and I will never forget this exciting journey. I want to encourage everyone and anyone reading this that if there is something that they’ve always wanted to do but are scared of doing, this is exactly what we did. The result was an incredible journey, a fantastic friendship and stories that will last me at least until I do it again.
Philippa Solf (19)
For donations: https://www.lebanononwheels.com/donate
With your donations, we will be able to pay for an in-house tutor to come to the home of our friends, disabled children who live in Lebanon and are unable to go to school due to their lack of mobility and funds. All and any donation makes a big difference so if you can spare us the change you might spend on that next pint, I promise you it’s worth it.