Ann-Kathrin Bendixen got on his motorcycle at 19 and drove off. Her only companion is a plush monkey that gives her solace in lonely moments.
I lay in the ambulance, blind with pain. I clenched my fists and tried to stay calm. Hopeless. A few months ago I had an operation on my sinuses – a small operation that made me sick, not healthier. They had miscalculated in the operating room and removed too much bones. As a result, mucus, scar tissue and pus had collected in my eye socket – a mucocele that took up space and made me blind for a few days. With the bone removed, the inflammation could quickly spread to my brain. I had to have an operation right away.
I had already lost so much life
For months, almost years, I had struggled with many different diseases. Whether it was a protracted inflammation of the nail bed, the emergency surgery on my sinuses or clostridia caused by antibiotics. I had already lost an incredible amount of time. Each time I had to find the will to fight my way back to life. I was constantly afraid of pain and, in the end, even death.
As I slowly recovered in the hospital, suddenly 1000 questions flashed through my head that I had never asked myself at the age of 19. I questioned my life: getting up at six every day, going to school, coming home, studying, eating and going back to sleep. The same thing the next day. And after graduating from school, it would go on in exactly the same way: training, studying, work – only to be finally free when you reach retirement age.
“I wondered where there was time for me. Time to find my talents, skills and happiness.”
I always strived for good grades, wanted to make my parents and teachers proud. But with all the urge to perform, I had lost myself.
I didn’t want to go into the hamster wheel
I imagined established life to be like a hamster wheel. I was afraid of a boring, orderly life. Suddenly it was clear to me: I wanted to live. So right. The first time I no longer limited my thinking and suddenly saw 1000 doors that were open to me. I wanted to find myself, feel independent and be completely free for once before I would sink into everyday work. I wanted to live my dream. Because I had learned one thing: just because you’re young doesn’t mean you’ll get old too.
Weeks of recovery had passed. I made it back to the boring wooden chair at school, graduated from high school and resolved to leave this life behind me for now. “Just a piece of paper,” I thought as I held my high school diploma in my hand, and unlike my classmates, I saw no future in it.
The main thing is away!
I scraped together what little money I had, bought an old, cheap Suzuki Bandit from 1996 and saw my future far away from Germany. As naive as I was then, I got on the saddle and set off into uncertainty. My plush monkey that my friends gave me as a goodbye, the bandit and me. I tied my luggage to the rear of the bike. Sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hammock and a tent, clothes, stove and a knife. I hadn’t given myself much thought about my luggage. The main thing is to go!
From northern Germany I was drawn to southern Europe, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. I slept in my tent or in my hammock. Because I was short of cash, I often only ate apples, grapes or tomatoes. Sometimes I would take them from a field or a garden – although I had a guilty conscience, I was also hungry.
“One time or another I had to go to bed on an empty stomach and wanted nothing more than a pizza.”
So the first few weeks of my trip passed. The rattle of my Suzi became my home. I got used to helping myself and no longer just trusting others. No doctors to rob me of my time and hope, no school or work to force me into an established life. I felt incredibly free.
The best decision of my life
I drove along lonely country roads, marveled at the landscape and watched the local families as they worked in their fields. When they sat outside together in the evening, I often marveled at their solidarity. I stood by the wayside and loved listening to their voices so much. The courtyards in southern Europe were often overgrown with green. So idyllic. So beautiful. There was a lot of grilling and it always smelled wonderful.
At some point I couldn’t stand it because of hunger, parked my bike, entered the property of a wine farm and spoke to the owners. It was the best decision of my life. I got a fat steak, a place for my tent, and work for a week. “Exception”, I thought at the time, until I found a farm shortly afterwards. And then another.
The months flew by, I never would have thought that I could be on the road for so long. Difficulties were seldom encountered. But if so, then do it correctly. I don’t mean the cases when my Suzi gave up the ghost and I watched YouTube videos for hours to get her working again. By that I mean emotional depths that I would probably never have experienced without this adventure trip.
An adventure not only has beautiful sides – but also
I cried a lot, was desperate and wanted to give up. My travel. Me. I’ve had experiences that I prefer to ignore: a painful breakup, sexual assault and accidents. The past teaches me things, but it shouldn’t stop me. My journey continues, looking to the future. Despite all the lows that were there. I wouldn’t give my life for any money in the world. All the good experiences make up for the bad.
Ann-Kathrin Bendixen has been traveling for 21 months and has written a book about her experiences: “Bikergirl – How I looked for freedom and found life” (riva Verlag, 13 euros).