Day 20 / Dec 3

Moulin de Lucy – Soissons (55.8 km)

22 riders. Average speed 16.2 km/h. Time pedalling 3.5hrs

It was pleasure to see the Moulin de Lucy in daylight. Our arrival in darkness last night meant we could only imagine much of it´s appearance, so walking out in the morning was marvellous. Hubert and Evi gave us a tour of their place, told us about the river, how the basin behaves and how good for them it was that it was raining so much upstream the day before. This meant a lot of energy generated by the mill and that equates to lots of hot water and plenty of electricity. They are such a sweet and welcoming couple, both taking pictures and giving out daisies Hubert pulled from the lawn. It was entirely possible to imagine the entire scene as an impressionist painting. We peddled out of Moulin de Lucy in extremely high spirits, having had exceptional hospitality there. Some of us hope to return…

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The navigator today was Arnaud, member of the “Le Forum du Vélorizontal, vélo couché et autres véhicules à propulsion humaine”, who was cruising in front of the group in his Velomobile, a 3-wheeled enclosed recumbent (you can spot it on the far right of the picture above!). Often “day-riders” give us the self important feeling of being in shape, as they often tell us how exhausting even one day of cooperiding has been for them. Not so for Arnaud, who quickly earned the nickname “speedy”. The Velomobile is rather robotic and futuristic; it is enclosed and has a battery to boast speed; it is as aerodynamic as a bird; and fast as hell. In his Velomobile, Arnaud can maintain a cruising speed of about  50 km/h on flat, with a maximum of about 75 km/h downhill. The acceleration in comparison to a bike is insane. It looks as if it was from the future and is in fact it is an example of what low-carbon mobility may look like in future.

The route today was along pleasant small but paved roads that made it much easier to stay in formation and created a nice cycling experience in general. This has been a rarity so far in France where our encounters with bicycle paths has so far has been pretty limited. Many of us found it extremely relaxing to not be surrounded by cars all the time – car exhaust and noise pollution can be exhausting. Speedy normally does this trip in a couple of hours, but he was gracious enough to let us take all day about it.

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We had another impressionist-painting-moment when we took lunch at the Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique. The weather was warm and sunny as if it was September and the view was great. However, as true environmentalists we had to remark that it is quite unusual to be able to take a nap in the sun without a blanket on the 3rd of December (as are December-Daisies and Cherry Blossoms, by the way)…

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Arnaud is a resident of Soisson – he works at the university building
prototype Velomobiles – and a couple of us (Theo and Phil) were lucky enough to see his garage in order to fix a problem with the tandem´s hydraulic breaking system. Thank you again for your great help and generosity, Arnaud!

We spent the evening in a sports hall belonging to the University of
Soissons (via Speedy) and discussed practical issues regarding our time
ahead in Paris, as well as a peculiar thing some of us noticed on the
ride: Being part of the Cooperide means giving up personal freedoms by
behaving in accordance with the group, but at the same time it allows
you the extraordinary freedom to cycle from Copenhagen to Paris in the
first place. Freedom through sacrifice, you might say. No doubt in
this there is a lesson to be learned for climate policies…

Day 19 / Dec 2

Valenciennes – Moulin de Lucy (Ribemont) (73 km)

19 riders. Average speed 17 km/h. Time pedalling 4h10

Today was a day of fast riding on brisk roads. No rain, no wind and not too cold. It was also a day of long breaks (probably our longest lunch break yet..), a lot of repairing bikes and some unexpected situations. On busy country lanes we had to put up with a lot of overtaking traffic, making us long for Danish/German/Belgian bike lanes.

The day started with uncertainty about what to about the stolen bikes. Issac and Dennis made a visit to the Valenciennes police station to report the theft. But it was our hosts who saved the day, and the boy´s continuation of their trip was made possible thanks to the fantastic Janine Lecaille, of the Ecologi Party, who sourced two bikes. Our friends in Valenciennes wanted to see us finishing this tour together and so we will!

Once we set off, everything went rather smoothly and we arrived at the lunch stop early, where we had an interview with a local TV station and met with children from a local afterschool club to eat together. As on Wednesday afternoons French schools are off, they had plenty of time to spare, so at this point things managed to drag a little bit vis-a-vis lunch arrangements. But we were shown to their youth club complete with table football and ping pong (cue: fun!) and after a bit of hungry clockwatching, a delivery of ´fast´ food showed up. Two and a half hour after pulling into Le Cateau-Cambrésis (the birthplace of Henri Matisse no less) we set off with 40km of road ahead and not a lot of light left in the day.

We covered ground fast despite a couple of flat tires. Luckily we have some really good techies in the group with the knowledge and skill to get things rolling quickly. Meanwhile, others in the group stay warm by playing games or grazing on snacks. After a day of car-filled roads, it was nice to turn off the road onto a country path, which had the potential to be one of the nicest of the route, however, the darkness made it rather challenging. Imagine it like a game: following the light in front of you, counting on the people before shouting “puddle on the left”, “pothole to the right” or “slow!”. We made it and arrived at the most idyllic place possibly imaginable, welcomed by super lovely people. And not unimportantly, Theres and Christoph are back! We´re happy to have them back in the crew, rested from a couple of extra days in Brussels.

The magical overnight stop was called Moulin de Lucy, an old watermill in which Hubert and Evi and their son Aristotle, the owners, served us a delicious dinner. The décor of the mill is quite remarkable, the sort of place you enter and are immediately struck by it´s creativity, colour, charm and character.

The food was prepared from artisan ingredients: vegetables from around the corner, bread made by the neighbour (specially for us), olives coming from the hometown of Evi in Greece and olive oil made from it by her self, and to finish Baklava made with nuts ground in the mill. The dinner was completed with homemade beverages brought by friends (juice, cider, beer) and some delicious wine. The cheese was the only thing not homemade, a delicious typical local cheese from the region. With friends of our hosts also gathered, it was a meal that connected in many ways and a jovial, truly unforgettable one.

The story of the mill is relevant for our journey too. It dates from the 19th century and was used during the First World War to make flour, after that for the textile industry and nowadays the hydropower generator provides power for the mill house and a few surrounding buildings. Hubert, Evi and Aristotle have worked incredibly hard to get the mill into it´s current condition, as they believe that this way of generating energy is of great importance to show that alternatives are possible. For Hubert it was at that time all about the fight against nuclear energy, he emphasised this is very related to lowering CO2. In this attractive and charming place we are reminded of our Lund teacher, Andreas Malm, who´s work Fossil Capital is an explanation of how hydropower was replaced by  steam (coal) in British industries during the 19th century. Writing in the Jacobin magazine, he ties this historically legacy very powerfully to today´s climate crisis. Moulin de Lucy is a lesson that small, rather simple and locally owned technologies and might offer the key to a cleaner and more progressive future.

Today we succeeded in living lifestyles connected to other people and to nature; a goal that we set ourselves in the manifesto. We have a mere three more days on the road…

Day 18 / Dec 1

Mons – Valenciennes (46.6km)

19 riders. Average speed 12,3 km/h. Time pedalling 4h41

France, at last! The anticipation is flourishing as we approach our final destination. Now that we are finally in France we have the feeling that we are almost there. We have come so far. We have cycled a total of 1292 km. We are excited, exhausted but happy; all our efforts throughout this epic journey have been leading up to these moments. It feels like we have been preparing for this for a long time.

The day started early in Mons, in the gym of the University of Mons that opened its doors for us. Breakfast was at the same place where we had dinner; these heroes at the University restaurant stayed up late last night to prepare soup and pasta for us and then in the morning prepared perfect breakfast (blessed be thee chocolate croissants) and also provided us with half a baguette with cheese and salad for each for lunch. This is what heroes do in real life. We waved goodbye and cheered for them as we hopped on our bikes in the drizzly morning.

We met two day riders in the central station, fixed a flat tire and were off to France. We slowed down the pace in a nice meandering cycle lane that took us 20km out of Mons and as we were approached the border we took a small roads far from the highway.

It was a dirty affair crossing the border. Literally. Wheels stuck, losing balance in puddles and, for some, feet ankle deep in the mud kind of dirty. And we loved every minute of it. We laughed as we pushed up the bikes though muddy grassy hills and we laughed as we pushed our bikes and slipped in muddy ponds. We knew it was a short ride in terms of kilometres but that never equates to it being easy. It’s never been the case on the Cooperide. We marvel at irony of the fact that is always the short stages that offer us such entertaining challenges. And every day the challenge takes a different dimension.

Once in Valenciennes (mud-spattered bikes, pants, faces and wet shoes) we were received by a group from the local green party who host a lovely soiree. Meaning plenty of red wine, cheeses, hams, breads, fruits and lively conversation. Yep, we are in France.

There was live music by a Tibetan artist who lives here, who talked a bit about the struggles of his people in regard to climate change. A local farmer named Vincent shared with us how he organizes with the community to create a new kind of relationship with food production a consumption based on mutual support, trust and enjoyment of local produce, without exploitation of people or the earth. We taught the locals a song we came up with on the road and performed our theme song for them too. Finally a couple of fantastic short films about local initiatives were screened, one of these was about an organic food project and another a cycling promotion organisation. The series of short films was call the Halte Terres Natives, and can be found on the Collectif des Routes site.

It would have been a fantastic day if it hadn’t been for what happened at the end of the night, which can only be described metaphorically as a massive kick in the private parts. At the end of the evening, brimming with warmth, energy and contentment, we were being divided in smaller groups to go with our hosts to the places where we would spend the night (several kind locals offered their homes to host us for the night). We went just outside the building to pick up our bikes and found that two of them were missing. SCHEISSE! MERDE! FUCK!

Dennis and Issac had attached their bikes together using a high-quality ABUS lock. We always take precaution to do this, even in sleepy locations, but in this instance the bikes were in an unlit spot backing onto a park and the situation was exploited. Issac had a very nice bike which he had ridden all the way from Halland in Sweden, but Dennis´ was always the beauty in our pack. This trusted and much loved stead (Soma frame, Shimano XT hubs, Brooks saddle) was purchased in Australia and taken right the way through Asia, through Malaysia, Thailand, India, Pakistan and Iran. As our principal Techie, Denis went to daily effort to ensure his wheels were rolling optimally. At home in Malmö he´d always carry it up 4 flights of stairs to lock it in his flat rather than risk theft. Losing a bike like that, with such a deep attachment, is like losing a limb. Nothing less than a tragedy…

Day 18 brought the some of the biggest highs of the trip so far, the most joy and laughter we´d enjoyed as a group, but it will also be remembered for the worst of reasons. Valenciennes- the town with some of the kindest people we have so far met on the road and some of the biggest scum-bags too.

Day 17 / Nov 30

Brussel – Mons (68km)

14, became 13, became 12 riders and another group behind of 5. Average speed 13,1 km/h. Time pedalling 4h41 

After I [Petra] waved the Cooperiders goodbye in Copenhagen two weeks ago, everyone was full of energy and physically in good shape, happy to finally start this journey. When I met the riders again in Brussels, I could notice a difference. Not in regard to the great and warm energy they carry with them, but I did notice a difference in the level of feeling physically exhausted. I could read tiredness on the faces and bodies of the riders. However, I also see the dedication and the energy that people still have to make this ride all the way to Paris!

But, the physical exhausting also meant today some people had to make the decision to listen to their bodies and take a rest. There is no point ignoring sickness or physical injuries and by taking a day (or two) of rest we hope they´ll be able to join again on a later stage. Not an easy but wise decision. Probably also the right one, as it was for sure not an easy ride today.

We started the day by saying goodbye to two of our fellow riders: Ronja and Sebastian, two great and dedicated companions, who have been of great support for the group. After an emotional goodbye, we had to get on our bikes. Five of us left to do an action for the Climate Games (see below) and fourteen of us directly hit the road to Mons. Rain was falling out of the sky heavily as we left and the drizzle stayed with us throughout the day. Before we´d made it more than a couple of kilometres, Christoph´s knee let me him know that should also take the day off, so he wheeled around to make those remaining in Brussels a group of 3.

The rain, headwind and rather hilly landscape made the route challenging. Luckily we were warmly welcomed with soup made from vegetables out of the garden at our lunch stop by an old couple. This delicious meal filled us with renewed energy to make it all the way to Mons. They also incredibly kindly offered a lift to one of our group who felt the afternoon´s distance was beyond their available energy.

We had to face some challenges during the second part of the day. A flat tire and lost glasses on the way provided some delay, meaning that we had to cycle the last part in the dark. But we did it with good energy! Around 18 we arrived in Mons where we stayed overnight at the university. We were welcomed with a great dinner and a screening of the film “The Age of Stupid” with some of the students connected to the Belgian Green Party . We ended this with a good discussion and were once again amazed at the level to which people are willing to host us.

Taking part in Climate Games, 5 of our riders spent the morning in Brussels doing a spot of Brandalism. We choose to target the automobile giant Volkswagen, who have been caught red handed cheating their emissions test. On the premise of helping out the advertising campaign for their latest product, we visited a couple of their dealerships and helped them out by distributing some of their posters in the city. For a really good explanation of how the automobile industry lobbies to dilute regulation on emissions, we´d recommend you see the documentary Bikes vs Cars.

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Not leaving Brussels till after midday, we had to ride extra hard to catch up with the rest of the group. Fortunately there was still food left when they made it to Mons!

Thank you to all those who´ve been in touch with messages of support and concern regarding our recent difficulties on the road, it feels great to have you behind us! Our perseverance continues despite the weather in Belgium being against us and our collective fatigue. No-one of us entered the Cooperide thinking it would be an experience lacking intensity (good luck thinking about climate change for a couple of weeks straight and not getting intense!). So it might be a bit of a roller-coaster and we are certainly facing challenges, but we´re pulling together to support one another, having incredible experiences along the way and, above all, prioritising each other´s well-being and safety.

Special shout out to all those who made it on a Climate march over the weekend! Pictures from all the events were super inspiring.

And welcome into the world baby Kaj, our newest friend in Copenhagen. We´re doing this for you little guy. Huge congratulations Anna & Jeppe!

Day 16 / Nov 29

Leuven – Brussels (36km)

21 riders, became 19, became 16. Average speed 12 km/h. Time pedalling 3h

It was always going to be a short distance from Leuven to Brussels but the weather made sure that it felt like a tough one. Rain and strong head wind accompanied us throughout. As a group we have accumulated tiredness, that we mentioned yesterday. The honeymoon fortnight has worn off. So even if a stage wasn´t so long, it wasn´t easy either. Arrival in Brussels was rather weird too.

The first 10k had elevation in the form of rolling hills going through villages. It was rather picturesque scenery that could´ve be beautiful and enjoyable but with the intense wind lashing rain in our faces, we were not able to take it in. [Quick shout out to all those people who told us that the weather would be shitty on this trip: Yes, you were right, aren´t you clever. And no, we don´t wish we´d stayed at home!]

Our group is evolving. One rider decided the night before that they would take the train into Brussels. Two more changed their mind after a couple of kilometres in order to rest injuries, so turned around to catch the train. And halfway though the ride a another group of three left the route in search of a train station to accompany an unwell rider. This breaking down of the group (riders dropping like flies) is something that we are dealing with as best as we can.

We need to stay healthy and safe, and it’s important that everyone listens to his or her own needs so we do our best to provide a safe space where everyone can take the decisions they need but at the same time it feels sad when someone cannot keep going with the group because it feels like somehow we have not been able to take care of each other properly. It’s also a mix of factors influencing us right now between being physically and mentally beat, and also getting sick. Another thing we´re getting stricter on is food hygiene, we´ll be washing hands better before meals to ensure bacteria infections aren´t passed around. Some people have been feeling bad in their stomach and this with many hours of cycling is not a good combination.

Reduced, wet and struggling, we rolled in Brussels. It felt like an oppressive city to enter, particularly around governmental buildings. Apart from occasional tourists, the streets were quiet and under high police and military surveillance. We had to detour from our route to find our way into our accommodation since so many streets were closed. Before arriving to our destination we saw police blocking streets and cycled past soldiers carrying machine guns. A circling helicopter and constant distant sound of sirens didn´t lighten the mood.

This evening in our meeting we were surprised to hear from one of our Swedish riders, Peter, that he would prefer to continue the ride alone. This came out of the blue, but he very articulately explained his reasoning for this and departed on the best of terms.

The good news is that we welcomed our beautiful Petra who will bike with us from today and brings us news from Sweden and tons of fresh energy! Also Jürgen is back!

Day 15 / Nov 28

Aachen – Leuven (110km)

21 riders. Average speed 16km/h. Time pedalling 6h41m

Today was a long ride. On Day 2 we also did over 100k so we knew what was coming our way but this ride was different in many ways. For starters there was a lot more elevation. More significantly, we´ve been on the road for two weeks now. We took into consideration that our physical and mental state is quite different than that first week so our plan was to start early from Aachen, maximise daylight and take it easy on the road. We are relieved (and proud!) to say that we did it, that we managed, that we cycled only one our in the dark, that we pulled through safely!

We are encountering new challenges at this point of the tour and many have to do with how each of us deals with desires, pride and motivation versus what our bodies are telling us that is needed. Until what point do you push yourself? Our legs ache, our backs are stiff, our knees are sore and our lips are chapped, so we are starting to find out. These are big lessons: listening to what we need to keep safe and healthy, to speak up when something is too much, to discuss priorities and decide collectively for the benefit of all riders and the benefit of the project.

With all these things in mind and with a long day ahead we packed lunch, lots of snacks and set off with light rain at dawn. We are so thankful for our smiling hosts at the Welthaus in Aachen who actually made it possible for us to get an early start since they also got up early to have breakfast ready for us at 6:30. It was delicious!

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So as the rain passed, we cycled early out of Aachen and before noon we had already crossed two borders: at 6km we entered the Netherlands and just before the lunch break, at around 40k, we entered Belgium. The lack of intervention at these borders was remarked upon as a desirable situation. We felt fortunate to be able to pass freely between countries. Yet we are also conscious that this type of border is in decreasing supply around the world and climate change will do nothing but accelerate this.

Lunch was in the town of Tongeren, in a café where we ordered hot chocolate and cappuccinos that tasted like heaven. At this point three of us took the train to Leuven, our final destination. This option had been proposed the night before and some had already decided that it was the best for them today. Others decided spontaneously during lunch to join the train team. We are biking to Paris, yes, but we also want to stay safe and happy and a big part of that is being kind to ourselves. This includes listening to what our bodies are telling us.

After lunch we turned off the big straight roads that had lead us for most of the morning, these low-gradient old ´stone roads´ connected Belgium´s towns in the 19th century. Instead we opted for meandering tracks through fruit orchards, which provided beautiful scenery and mostly a path spacious enough to ride side-by side, allowing long interesting conversations (or just jokes and singing). The rolling hills and light head-wind meant we worked hard for every kilometre. We got through by pulling together as a group, no-one personified this more that Oak, who´s navigation and pace setting lead the way, doing regular temperature checks to make sure the group could keep going. He was awesome.

After taking a long break at dusk, we covered the final hour in the dark at a good speed, those with bike computers eagerly counted down the distances. Our arrival in Leuven was at 18.30, just as we had anticipated. Accommodation was an empty corridor provided by KU Leuven, which means beds and hot showers! We collaborated with a local group called Collectief Cursief to host an event at Pangaea, a union for international students. We ate a tasty dinner prepared by Leuven´s people´s kitchen and screened the Naomi Klein film, which was followed by a discussion. We were glad to meet the Collectief Cursief group and enjoy Belgian beer in the process.

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Day 14/Nov 27

Hambacher Forst – Aachen (55km)

25 riders. Average speed: 14km/h. Time pedaling: 4h00m

 

A bright full moon lit up the meadows occupation camp next to Hambach mine last night, so bright in fact it created two rainbows around it. Many of our group were hosted there in caravans, a roundhouse and some cob huts. We stayed warm, just about, but in the morning our bikes were coated in the same fine dusty frost that also littered the surrounding meadow. It was mighty chilly!

Gabor lead us on foot through the misty forest, as the sun breaking through the leaves, to see the other group of occupiers living directly in the forest. These activists have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure their presence in the forest continues and prevents the mine: tree houses, massive trenches, tripods and tree trunks to lock into, were all a testament to this.  In the face of extremely harsh oppression from the police and RWE´s security, these activists are blocking the expansion of the lignite coal mine. A conflict zone in the very heart of Europe.

Lunch at Buir station was with an assortment of other groups who had gathered to also show resistence to RWE. Having eaten our lunch early, we rode about 3km from the town, back towards the forest to wait for the arrival of the Run for your life runner. We lined the track with bikes and banners and cheered Antje through as she held up the stone from Kirona and ran through [watch this moment on local news here from 10:30]. We then followed her back to Buir station, chanting and singing on the way.

By this point it had gone 2pm and we needed to hit the road to get to Aachan. The sun was shining and it felt good to have partipated in a great event with local activists and RFYL. However, rather like day 3, today might not have been long distance-wise, but it was a massive challenge. In particular because of the quantity of sharp hills we encountered, the biting cold that followed the day of sunny clear skies and the fact that it was dark for more than the last 15km. We arrived at Welthaus Aachan thoroughly exhausted, with about half of us feeling too tired to make it to Critical Mass, which we had scheduled to join. We were greeted at the Welthaus by lovely people from the local ATTAC group who fed us with delicious golash, salads and an array of sweet breads.

News of French police using their emergency powers against climate activists is not overly surprising, but nonetheless it doesn´t bode too well for our intentions to join civil society events in Paris. We´ll be keeping an eye on how this develops.

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It was our last full day in Germany. We´ve now riden over 1000km since leaving Copenhagen and been on the road 2 full week. Our spirit is determined, but it would be no exaggeration to say we´re feeling exhausted.

ps. More pictures of the last couple of days here.

Day 13 / Nov 26

Düsseldorf – Hambacher Forst (89km)

28 riders. Average speed 15.4 km/h. Time pedalling 5h47m

 On an icy morning we said goodbye to our friends (Caro, Martha and Jacob) and set off from Düsseldorf. The meeting point with the day riders was in one of the landmarks of the city: the Rheinturm, a big communications tower overlooking the Rhine, located next to the regional parliament. Among the people who joined us today were members of North Rhine Westphalia´s parliamentary Green Party.

 We took some pictures, switched around some bikes (Coni got to try the tandem with Theo) and we were ready to go. We crossed the Rhine over a huge bridge and under blue skies, pondered how sunlight influences what we understand what we see. This particular morning it made Düsseldorf look pretty nice. Signs of what lay ahead started appearing on the horizon in the form of gigantic plumes of smoke.

 Despite this, we enjoyed the sunny rolling that brought us the 37km to Hochneukirch, where we sat outside the train station and shared fruits, sweet bread, spreads, salads, Caro´s delicious date cookies and leftovers from last night’s dinner. Some locals stopped by to say hello and we handed out a couple of flyers. It was sunny and warm (warm at the moment is anything above about 6°C, so no penguin pogo was necessary. There we met with Gabor, a local activist, who would guide us for the rest of the day.

 He took us first to ride around a vast open cast coal mine, Garzweiler, owned and operated by RWE. The first thing to remark about this kind of mining is the sheer scale. You can be standing several hundred meters, with the gulf in the landscape stretching further ahead than the eye can see – this is in part due to the dusty haze in the air – and wider than your eye´s panorama is able to take in. In a very simple sense, it´s overwhelming how enormous it is. Within the hole, behemoth digging machines whirled way, long conveyor belts and 4x4s that look like toy cars. The individuals working down there, in hi-visibility overalls, were specs. It´s hard to describe,take a look.

 Gabor explained the devastation that is being played out here, how the ground water is pumped out to keep the whole dry and how local people are suffering from the air pollution. Depressingly, lignite coal is the dirtiest form of electricity there is. As Gabor put it, rather generously, “it is as if RWE forgot to innovate from their methods for the last 50 years”. For those of us who were witnessing the scar of open cast mining for the first time, the scene was little short of horrific. Here in front of our very eyes, the principal cause of humanity´s destruction of the biosphere, industrial coal, was marching onward unabated. Adding to the sense of despair was the scattering of huge power plants on the sky-line; we could see emissions pouring directly from the mine out into the atmosphere and the skies were clear with the exception of these massive trails. We understand this as violence occurring against local people in the form of air pollution and against future generations, small island nations, artic communities – and many more – in the form of greenhouse-gas emissions. It was a stark reminder of what the Cooperide is against.

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The local resistance to the coal mine is long-running and vibrant, but it is up against a tough opponent in RWE who are determined to expand their operations, including into settlements. Gabor took us through abandoned ghost villages that are right at the edge of the pit where, despite opposition, residents have been paid to re-settle their homes. We cycled through these abandoned villages that are being torn down and where maybe one or two families still live in an act of rebellion. We heard stories of RWE deploying a variety of underhand tactics to achieve their objective – ranging from brutal security to undisclosed resettlement payments; essentially bribing people to move out of their homes without fuss.

We then rode on to another enormous pit, Tagebau Hambach, the scene of an inspiring 5-fingered occupation this August. Several of our group shared stories of this action, organised by ‘Ende Gelände´, in which the operation was shut down.

It was a devastating tour that ended with some cold but pleasant outdoor conviviality with local activists at their occupation camp, the meadows, on land ear-marked to become part of the pit. We had soup and chatted around the fireside with some of the people there. It was an amazingly impressive commitment made by those there to continually resist the mine. They´ve been there for over 3 years now and we hope that they succeed in their struggle to halt the mine´s expansion. The meadows hosted half of our group overnight, with the rest of us staying with kind private hosts in the nearby town of Buer. 

Day 12 / Nov 25

Bochum – Düsseldorf (68km)

30 riders. Average speed 14km/h. Time pedalling 4.47

We are riding through the Ruhr area, a highly urbanized region, the most densely populated part of Germany in fact, where there were (and still are to some extent) hundreds of coal mines. Germany´s energy system has changed a lot since the Ruhr region was it´s powerhouse, particularly due to the recent Energiewende. However riding today the legacy of the coal industry was plainly evident.

Most relevantly for us many of the old railway lines have become bike paths. Led by a local bike buff called Tim, who we´d met at Bochum Volkshochschule the evening before, we escaped urban sprawl and roundabouts by taking one of these bike paths between Bochum and Essen. During our ride we passed two enormous coal mine museums, which are actually our favourite kind of coal mine.

A large number of day-riders joined today, which is a positive endorsement of our project but doesn´t come without challenges. Those of us who have been riding together for many days now are accustomed to rolling smoothly and communicating effectively, but we are recognising that for the unaccustomed this doesn´t always immediately click. So this evening we decided as a group to make an extra effort to incorporate day riders, to make best use of their local knowledge and connect with their contextual environmental agendas.

In Essen we met with a group of local climate activists who had prepared a demonstration for us to participate in. The action was targeted at the energy utility giant STEAG who have recently expressed their interest in purchasing the Lausitz lignite coal mine from the Swedish energy company Vattenfall. Our message to STEAG was a simple one: “Buying Lausitz is buying resistance”. We took individual photos in front of STEAG´s headquarters with a board saying “I´ll be back, Lausitz 2016”, making the pledge to return for further demonstrations if the deal goes ahead. After some astute words from Theo on the megaphone about the connection between global climate change and decisions made in corporate board-rooms, we sang them a song* and went on our way.

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After yesterdays challenging weather, today felt like a walk in the park. A park with a lot of hills, but still, it was dry and not too cold. The most scenic part of our route was a lovely section running parallel to the Ruhr river, where we took our afternoon break. Another memorable moment was when we were stopped going on our GPS route because it was private estate. Our commitment to consensus based decision-making prevented an impulse decision to continue regardless of the rules and after some discussion we opted to go around the park´s fences. A reflection on this from one member of our group was actually one of pity, “they are the ones in a cage, who build a fence around themselves”.

For the second night in a row, we stayed in Die Falken accommodation, which is a youth socialist association. Both centres have been comfortable and spacious. This evening our food team cooked a superb dinner, completed by a chocolate beetroot cake. We were happy to be joined by two friends from Lund who live not to far away, Marthe and Caro. Less joyful is that it´s Jacob´s last night who has been an ever-present source of good vibes and solid companionship on the road. We´re glad to welcome Natan, Tobi, and Thomas to group, all of whom plan to join us through to Paris.

*We now have something of a theme song, which was composed to brighten up spirits as we roll. To the tune of a song known as “I like the flowers” the adapted words are: “We hate the coal mines, we like Naomi Klein, we like the wind turbines, with them we might be fine, And we like to ride our bikes when the winds are strong.”

Day 11 / Nov 24

Münster – Bochum (76.1km)

24 riders. Average speed 14.5km/h. Time pedalling 5h14m

Today was a tough one. Probably our hardest day so far. The weather did not even try to be on our side. It was very cold (4°-1°), very windy (head wind obviously) and by the end of the day the little flecks of hail/snow that had been falling through the afternoon turned into full-blown snow. After the joyfullness

 

Before departure we welcomed two day riders and two new longer-term riders into the team and played group games at the meeting point by the central station whilst Marie replaced her bike rack. Münster is a very bike-friendly city so it was comfortable riding out of it. Nevertheless conditions were tricky in terms of the biting cold wind. If it hadn´t been for timely rounds of ninja and penguin-pogo during breaks and on the road sing-alongs lead by Phil’s enthusiasm, it would have been the time for our spirits to drop. “What´s penguin-pogo?” we hear you ask… Well, imagine all of us in full winter cycling gear and helmets, with arms tightly pressed to bodies, hands stretched out horizontally, hopping around and bumping into each other clumsily like a benign mosh pit.

Penguin-pogo

Penguin-pogo

Lunch was kindly organized by a local Friends of the Earth group in Lüdinghausen, who were very thoughtful in preparing hot vegetable soup, bread, cheese, coffee, cookies, warm apple juice and apples from their community orchard. It was a delight to have a hot meal waiting, for sure, nevertheless all was served outdoors and given the weather conditions this was rather uncomfortable because of the cold. Therese´s energy came to the rescue at this point, as she led her best and craziest warm up routine yet.

The landscape and road layout changed drastically after lunch. We waved goodbye to fields and country roads with parallel bike lanes, this afternoon felt more like a never ending urban sprawl dotted with industrial parks. Lots of trucks on the road, tram-lines and bumpy bike lanes didn´t increase the wholesomeness.

We arrived in Bochum just after 4pm and went directly to the sustainability fair organized by Arbeitskreis Umweltschutz Bochum inside the town´s Volkshochschule. A handful of environmental NGOs, initiatives and enterprises had set up information stands. We were welcomed like heroes, which was both flattering and weird at the same time. The small crowd gave us warm applause as we entered carrying our bags, faces red and cold. After short presentations from most of the groups represented, The Captain said a few words about Cooperide. We enjoyed a snack buffet with fair trade and organic treats (and many of those famous German spreads) and we were able to set up our banner and posters in a stand of our own so that people could approach us with questions and support us with donations.

After the event, the organisers escorted us to our accommodation in a short but high energy and loud critical mass.

PD: As we bike through small towns and villages in the afternoon we often see people walking their dogs (particularly after lunch or in the evening). We have noticed that the dogs seem to take more interest in us than their owners. How surprised and happy they are!