Biking the Euros – Why I’m Riding

This summer I’ll be riding my bike across Germany, from its northern border with Denmark to its Austrian southern border. Two thousand kilometers, solo, over 35 days. And while I ride, the top European men’s national football teams will also be in Germany, competing for the Euro 2024 football championship. While legends like Ronaldo and Mbappé and Harry Kane are striking goals into the back of the net, I’ll be biking through each of the 10 Euro 2024 host cities, from Hamburg in the north to Munich in the south.

I began visioning this ride in October, while living near Frankfurt, Germany. I wasn’t doing well. My mom had just recently passed away, I was in a job that wasn’t right for me, I was lonely, my life felt rudderless, and I spent most days drifting between intense feelings of anxiety and the deep lows of depression. At the time, I was wrestling with the incredibly difficult decision of whether to grind it out and stay in a “wrong-fit” job I had begun just months earlier or quit and leave the country, with no clue what I’d do next. When I finally resigned in November, doing what I needed for my physical and mental health, I vowed I would make the best of a bad situation. I adopted the whole, “closes a door, opens a window” “make lemonade out of lemons” mindset. My time in Frankfurt had not gone as I’d hoped. Not by a longshot. So, how could I reframe the future? How could I give myself opportunities to experience things I wouldn’t have been able to had I stayed in Germany? These were the questions I was asking myself at the time. And on a beautiful, sunny, fall day, during a long walk in the gorgeously green Bad Soden countryside, the idea to “Bike the Euros,” the idea that lifted my depression and gave me hope, became the answer.

At its core, this ride is a personal quest. A challenge for which I can hopefully rise. I want to test my limits, both physically and mentally, and do something “big.” This is an effort to embrace life, look my emotional struggles straight in the eye, and choose hope and aspiration over doubt and fear. I’m not sure I have what it takes to complete this. I’m not even sure I should be attempting it in the first place. I’m scared that I’ll get lonely or anxious or overwhelmed along the way. Or that my body will break down. But I guess that’s the point. The last few years have been a challenge. This ride is partly my way of acknowledging those challenges, accepting them, but not letting them hold me back or dictate my future. Reason number one for this ride, this adventure, strip everything else away, I want to see if I have what it takes to do it.

The earliest seed of an idea for this ride also involved raising money for an organization that helps those dealing with mental health challenges like my own. There are a great many phenomenal nonprofits out there doing this kind of work, but because my ride was taking place in Europe I wanted something international. And I was looking for an organization that was ambitious in its scope, but that felt personal and intimate. Eventually I found To Write Love on Her Arms. When I reached out to the people at TWLOHA  and explained to them my project – my ride – their response was immediate, their support generous. They instantly became the perfect partner. To Write Love on Her Arms is dedicated to, “Presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.” To date, they have donated more than $3 million towards treatment and recovery and have responded to over 200,000 messages from people seeking help in over 100 countries around the world. They provide search tools and referrals to counselors and crisis hotlines, and they regularly share information and stories of hope through social media, blog posts and an on-going podcast. I’m proud to be riding for To Write Love on Her Arms, and I strongly encourage you to visit their website to learn more about what they believe and all that they do. On its website TWLOHA lists as one of its beliefs that, “People need other people. We were never meant to do life alone.” My ride is all about connection, about sharing stories of hope. What luck it was that I found this amazing partner.

My ride, at its most ambitious, is a beginning. It’s a potential first step to something bigger, something on-going, something with the possibility to change the trajectory of my future, my career, my life’s work. I did say “ambitious,” didn’t I? Currently, on a leave of absence from my teaching position in Minnesota, I’m searching for something to jumpstart a new direction in life. So, in the spirit of that potential life shift, this ride is being framed within a larger project I’m calling, A Connection Story. I’m defining this as, “Finding beauty through struggle, hope and connection.” It’s broad. And admittedly, it’s rather nebulous. But what’s clear is my wish for A Connection Story to become a way for me to share my story and for others to share theirs. And in some way that it can help us all celebrate the hope and beauty of life, even through struggle. Tons of questions remain in my head about how to accomplish any of this, how to bring intention to the work, or whether I have what it takes to pull this blurry vision into focus and reality. But I’m not putting pressure on myself to come up with all the answers now. That’s partly what my ride is all about. It’s through the ride, through the connections I make, and through the mental space I’ll have during all those solo miles, that I hope to be inspired and gain some clarity about how to move forward with the Connection Story project. I’m also crossing my fingers that the ride will boost my confidence and show me that I have the strength, determination, talent and direction to successfully continue with the type of work that will give me purpose and help others. I definitely don’t have it all figured out. Biking the Euros is not the answer to what I could do more of in the future. It’s a question, and hopefully a beginning.

Fun. A final reason for this ride. And perhaps reason enough, am I right? Amid all my ambition and lofty aspirations, I need to remind myself that, if for no other reason, I’m biking across Germany and celebrating the 2024 Euros because it could be a month-long, one-heckuva-crazy-cool joy ride. I’m in need of some fun. Aren’t we all? While living south of Munich during the 2019-20 school year, I absolutely fell in love with the biking culture and infrastructure of Germany. The country felt like one giant bike trail. I dreamed, at the time, of one day loading up my pannier bags and biking across the entire country, carefree, surviving on radlers, pretzels, brats and the thrill of the open trail. As it turns out, June of 2024 will mark that “one day.” I’m scared of the many unknowns of this ride, but I’m also truly excited. In fact, I’m about as excited as a Bavarian in the Schottenhamel-Festhalle tent waiting for the mayor of Munich to shout, “O’zapft is!” Look it up.

Much like the mountain climber who climbs the mountain, I’m Biking the Euros because it – the journey – is there. My mood goes up. My mood goes down. Sometimes I think this whole darn thing is crazy. But when doubt takes over, I remind myself of that person who was walking the green fields and dense forests of Bad Soden on that sunny October day. Of that person who was struggling, who was looking for happiness and hope amid numbness, grief and uncertainty. That person, on that day, came up with the dream to bike across Germany, to tell his story, bring attention to mental health challenges, raise money for a worthy organization and to do something big. This ride is about honoring the hope that was inspired on that day, and fulfilling the dream of that me.

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