We begin to chatting to German couple Anja and Radko on the roadside just outside the Chilean village of Chaitén. I’d first seen them an hour earlier, as we zoomed past a duo taking shelter and eating lunch under a roadside bus stop. It was too wet (and we were too cold) to stop then, but thankfully the rain has now subsided and so Faye and I have taken the opportunity to pull over for our usual lunchtime snackette of cold hot dogs in tortilla wraps (avec ketchup). Mid lunch-munch, Anja and Radko appear on the road behind us, and pull over to where we are sat.
Anja has blonde hair, bright eyes and an even brighter smile. She is extremely friendly and begins putting us to shame with her near perfect grasp of English. Radko has opted for a more traditional unshaven ‘adventure look’ and is sporting a well-worn, and no doubt much loved, bright yellow long sleeve with black stripes down the arm and a small black eagle on his chest.
The four of us get along rather well and so we elect to spend the rest of the afternoon cycling together. It’s nice for Faye and I to have the chance to talk to others, and so we eagerly embrace this departure from our usual, sometimes stayed, conversation. There are only so many times you can ask one another how well you slept and how your morning poo was, after all.
Now an awesome foursome, we begin cruising along side by side under blue skies and past lush green surrounds. When I ask Anja how her and Radko came to be cycling around the world with one another, she takes a deep breath and I can tell there’s a good story coming…
After six years of medical school and a further seven years of training to be a surgeon, Anja decided that she wanted a change of pace in life. And what greater way to change the pace of your life, than to plan an around the world cycle…? The only problem in Anja’s plan was that she didn’t fancy pedalling around the world alone, and so she put a post up on a German bicycle touring forum, with an invitation for someone else to join her.
‘I received a lot of responses’ Anja said. ‘Most of them were from men, and some of them seemed to be a good fit, but when I suggested to each of them that we do a test ride together, to see how we got along – they were never able to make it. They couldn’t get the time off work or their schedule didn’t match mine. And so a lot of time went by. I still wanted to do this trip very badly, but I had no one to accompany me, so then I begin to think, OK – I just go alone.’
Four months passed and as Anja prepared to head off on her world cycle alone, she logged back into the forum once last time. There she spotted an email from a man called Radko, and a message which she’d missed the first time around.
‘So I messaged Radko and I said ‘I know that a long time has passed, but would you want to join me?’ And he replied with a yes! But he said his plans had changed and that he was going to start cycling the Iron Curtain Trail across Europe in a few days. He gave me his number so we had a talk on the phone and I asked if I could come and ride with him in Norway for three weeks, just to see how we got along.’
‘So you travelled to Norway to meet up with a man you’d never met, and to spend 3 weeks cycling with him?!’ I asked to clarify.
‘Yes!!’ Anja replies, laughing. ‘I know it may seem crazy, but to me, it was a very logical step.’
I like Anja’s style. This outwardly ’sensible’ surgeon has an inner gun-ho attitude I can really get on board with. We start up a hill and slow our pace a little as she continues the story between puffs.
‘Me and Radko cycled together for three weeks, and it worked really well. I mean, well… we fell in love, so I went back to cycle with him again at the end of the Iron Curtain Trail too.’
The hill flattens out now. Anja’s got her breath back and speeds up her words: ‘And then Radko moved to Berlin for 6 months to live with me so that we could plan the round the world trip, and… well… here we are!’
At this point, I am head over heels for Anja’s story. It has all the makings of a Hollywood movie: Boy meets girl, a sliding doors moment of a potentially missed email, a ‘you’ve got mail’ style meet up with a stranger who’s voice you’ve only heard on the phone. But there is one crucial piece of information I’m missing, so I ask Anja to back things up a little:
‘So at what point did you think you might fancy the pants off Radko?!’ I ask, and for the first time since meeting her, Anja gets a little shy.
‘Well I had a feeling on the phone when we first spoke. He was different to anyone I’d met to before. We just got along so well. It was so easy.’
‘And then once you were out there, in Norway?’ I press her further.
‘Oh, It didn’t take very long..!’ she replies coyly.
‘How long? Anja! I want to know when you SMOOCHED!’ I yell. I am in full-on love detective mode and I am not giving up on this case.
‘Haha! Okay, okay, I would say that was ten days in…’
‘Yayyyyy!!’ I screech, throwing one arm into the air in triumph.
‘And that was it. He’s the one for me.’ Anja tails off softly.
After exchanging details with our new favourite Deutschlanders, we leave them at the foot of a 700 metre climb. They are a bit pooped and decide that they’ve had enough cycling for one day. They’re going to find somewhere to camp and Faye and I are going to push on a little further. They pack us off with some chocolate and hugs, and we part ways.
That night, snuggled deep in my sleeping bag with my Elmo hat on my head, I think about Anja and Radko. A world away from their true home, but making a home together with a tent in a new location every night. It’s all kinds of romantic, and that makes me all kinds of happy as I drift off to sleep.