As many of you know, the comfort-zone is a dangerous place. It’s where fear is holding you back from doing what you actually want. And it’s also the place where dreams end. One and a half years ago I decided to not let my comfort-zone stop me from what I want to achieve. I want to tell you this story so you can start making the decisions you really want.
The story starts three years ago in April 2015 where I was sitting with some friends in school talking about what we want to do during the coming summer holidays. We started to fantasize which led to the idea to travel to the “Bodensee” (Engl. Lake Constance) which is about 180 km away from where I live. We started to think about who could organize the route, what we would need and how and where we would sleep. I started to get excited about the trip, especially because we also wanted to go around the lake too which is another 200km. But long story short, we didn’t go. Why was that? First of all, we were all 15 years old, so some of our parents didn’t allow us to go. Others said they didn’t have time. And I guess others just were too uncomfortable to do it, I included. I was scared of the idea to go on such a risky journey and be so far away from safety.
Two years later, in March 2017, me and my friend planned a little tour to a nearby “mountain” (It’s not really a mountain but a hill) called “Hohenstaufen”. It’s about 30 km away, so it wasn’t that scary. At that time I already was a passionate biker, so I saw no problem in arriving there. We prepared some food to take with us and didn’t think a lot about the route we wanted to take since you could see the hill from our hometown, not hard to miss. So we started our journey which went really well until we drove through a forest which blocked our view of the mountain. We knew it wasn’t far away since we saw it on our smartphones, but it seemed like there was no way to get on top of it. We drove up and down a hill until we realized there was a little route with a sign directing to “Hohenstaufen”. If we had been a little more conscious we would miss that sign while going back and forth the same road.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be used with bikes and the road got so uncomfortable to ride, that we had to pick up our bikes and walk with them up the hill. Eventually, we got out of the forest and could see the “mountain” again, making it much easier for us to find a proper street. We took a little break, thought about the best way to drive on top of it and then go for another half an hour until we reached our goal, even though the last bit was a steep hill. But anyway, we were happy about it and enjoyed the view. At that time we were really proud of ourselves to have achieved what we really wanted. I also think it was the longest trip on a bike I have ever done, so it expanded my comfort-zone for driving my bike and also for being responsible on my own.
Looking at the view, me and my friend remembered the idea we had 2 years ago about traveling to the Lake Constance on our bikes. Because we had already achieved something outside our comfort-zone, it was much more realistic to us. We also talked about other people we knew who have attempted to do it, but ended up traveling by train and then going around the lake on their bikes. Quick Note: Where I live, the south of Germany near Stuttgart, there are a lot of hills. So it’s not very easy to go down to the “Bodensee” since you have a lot of elevation changes. We wanted to be the first ones we knew who traveled down on their bikes, around the lake and back again, without any aid, just by our own.
Again I got excited about the idea, especially because there were just two of us, so it’s much easier to plan and to organize. With this new thought in our heads, we attempted to drive back home, which was easier said than done. We didn’t want to go back the same route, because it was very uncomfortable to ride, so we decided to go on the road. Well, we again ended up in the forest, but this time there wasn’t even a track or anything. We dragged our bikes through mud and bushes down a steep hill, which wasn’t comfortable at all. As we heard some cars passing by, we went in that direction, falling, getting up again, lifting our bikes over trees that fell down until we reached the street. We were already exhausted and we just had made a progress of five kilometers. A bit frustrated we got on the road.
Until this point I avoided to ride on the road as much as I could, but now I was forced to do it. I felt really uncomfortable when cars passed by at high speeds, especially when it was a truck that overtook us. Again I had to go out of my comfort-zone.
Finally arrived, I was exhausted but still happy that I have done it. And my excitement to go on a big trip got higher and higher.
Me and my friend sat down to plan our trip to the Lake Constance. The best time to do that was during It-lessons since we had access to computers and didn’t learn anything either. We learned from our unnecessary complicated trip and planned the road very well. We looked at potential ways to avoid riding on the public road and tried to choose the easiest road. There was one problem: When looking at a route on Google Maps, you don’t see elevation changes. For a car, this doesn´t make much of a difference, but when you ride a bike for a long time it is a huge point. But for now, we didn’t care.
We wanted to be best prepared for every eventuality, but the most important thing for us was to make sure that we arrive with no detours. When you drive a car, you can usually hop on the Autobahn and drive directly to a city near the “Bodensee” and find your spot easily from there. But for us, it wasn’t that easy. We had to ride through forests, little villages and generally find our way through unknown areas. That’s why we said to drive the first part of the tour to know that bit of the route. We found two points which were easy to remember and were part of the trip: Another “mountain” and five lakes which are on the same spot.
We decided to first drive to the mountain (60km one direction) and then do another big tour to these lakes (120km one direction). Two months later we went for the first part of the route to the “Bodensee” which was the mountain called “Limburg” at Kirchheim an der Tech. We had already programmed a navigation to the mountain, so there was no problem to find it. And actually, everything went really well. The weather was perfect, the road was clean and even and easy to remember. But it was double the length compared to “Hohenstaufen”. I would say it was an accomplishment, but because everything went fine, I don’t think it was far out of my comfort-zone.
The day we wanted to go for the “Bodensee-Tour” came closer and closer, but we haven’t done the longer 100km tour yet. It would also be a test of our endurance since it would be even longer. Our plan for the real tour was to drive two days until we reach the Lake Constance, then 5 days around the lake and another two days back home. We planned to sleep in a tent and continually thought about what we could need on such a tour. One thing was sure: We would have to take a lot of thing with us which meant we had a lot of weight on our bikes – not ideal when you consider all the hills we had to climb on our bikes.
To test how tough it really is we needed to make the 100km tour with all the additional weight. Three weeks before the deadline we wanted to attempt the tour together, but sadly my friend had to go to a concert because he plays the violin and is part of an orchestra. The two weekends after that were also blocked because we went on a trip to Berlin from our school. But I decided to go anyway.
Being alone has another character. You are responsible for yourself and have nobody to talk to or to help you in an emergency, except the dears in the forest. I packed everything for seven days to go on a two-day trip. I was really scared, especially because I had to find a place to sleep somewhere in the forest where no one could see me, because normally sleeping in a tent in the wilderness is illegal in Germany, as you would expect. Until the last day, I thought about staying at home, but I pushed myself and went for it.
Day one was very hot and hard. I had 40kg additional baggage including clothes, a tent, a yoga-matt and some spare tires. Actually, it was quite fun, even though I had no one to talk to. I entertained myself with singing or making turbo and blow off sounds (Yes, I am a car-guy). Driving past the Limburg I already was exhausted and needed a break after climbing the “Schwäbische Alb”. I checked the road, ate something and chilled for half an hour. Then I continued or wanted to continue because the road I was supposed to ride was closed.
There were two options: Ride on the road or find another way through the forest. I decided to search another way and wasted one hour ending up in the same place I made my brake. This really nagged on my confidence. I continued on the road, making a detour of about 7 km which wasn’t that bad. The rest of the tour went really well, except the brutal heat. I went out of water around 3 pm and driving through these little villages I either couldn’t find a store or they were already closed. So it took me a long time to buy water. Believe me, seeing a store when being thirsty for two hours is like entering a heaven! I talked to some people who were interested in what I was doing and generally they were very nice to me which gave me a boost in my confidence again.
Before I started that journey, I already imagined myself swimming in one of those lakes that represented my destination. Arriving after 150 km (including detours) I had a feeling of gratitude and happiness seeing it right in front of me, just as I had imagined. I got into the water and enjoyed its coldness. I wasn’t that happy for a long time. I really can’t describe that feeling, but you know how it feels when you have reached a big goal of some kind.
Since it was 6 pm I decided to attempt part of my way back home. I bought a lot of food and water for the coming day because the stores are closed on Sundays in Germany and did another 50km back home. As it got darker, I had to find a place to sleep. I relatively quickly found a nice place on a field with some trees protecting me from strong winds. As exhausted as I was I fell asleep very easily. It was the first time I slept alone in nature, so I had to expand my comfort-zone once again. But I didn’t really care, because I was happy to get rest for the next few hours.
Waking up early in the morning, I heard it raining on my tent. I was still very weak after the first day and couldn’t move my hands because I grabbed the handlebars of my bike for so long. I started by eating a protein bar and a banana and packed all my stuff back into the bags. At that point, all hell breaks loose. It started to pour water and thunder came closer and closer. The time I packed the tent, lightning hit about 100m beside me. I guess that’s one of the best motivations to start driving.
Within the first minute of my way back home, I was soaking wet. It was 6 AM on Sunday, so no one was outside and I was the only person around for about two hours. Driving the same route gave me confidence because I could guess how good my progress was and how far I still had to ride. After a while, I also started to relax more and I was grateful that it wasn’t as hot as yesterday, because there wasn’t much left of the water I have bought. I set a goal for myself to arrive at home when lunch was ready. And I achieved that goal. It was an overwhelming feeling to arrive at home. In my head I already thought about all the thing I would now want to do: Eat as much as I possibly could, take a shower, sleep, watch TV, do nothing else.
This experience taught me a lot about myself and about my ability to persist and not give up. It taught me a positive mindset and pushed my comfort-zone another step. Looking back I can say that it was a really good experience to go alone on this trip since I now knew what was important on such a trip and also which roads to take.
From now on me and my friend planned extensively what we would need. We thought about all the things that could happen and what we would need to make it as easy as possible to continue the trip. We also called some places that offer camping-spaces, so we had some destinations where we could sleep for two days. We organized everything perfectly, or at least we thought it was perfect. We packed and checked everything the day before departure and were excited to go.
Now the day has come (27.07.2018). And it rained. We started our tour at 8 AM and had to ride in jackets, since it was cold, even though it was the middle of summer. I was happy about the rain because I knew it was better than riding in the burning sun. We made very good progress and reached our first point “Limburg” very quickly. Riding up the hill of the “Schwäbische Alb” was exhausting and we took a break at the exact spot where I had taken mine three weeks earlier. But this time I knew exactly how to continue because the original road was still closed. We managed to ride the first 60 km without any navigation. Because of the rain, our motivation wasn’t that high and we didn’t talk very much, concentrating to not fall down on the slippery road.
We eventually reached the lakes in Ertingen and were happy to have reached our second checkpoint earlier than expected. The rain has stopped for a moment and we got into the water and enjoyed the moment. Clean and fresh we continued, and the rain started again. We drove another 10km before we started to search for a spot to spend the night in. It was really difficult and we ended up sleeping near the road because it got really dark and we had no time to search for something better.
Waking up the next morning was very hard. It continued raining and it was cold. After another 60km of hills and descent, we saw it: The Lake Constance! It was surreal that we had reached what has started with a simple idea three years ago! I can still feel the happiness of the moment. We stopped right at the camping-place that we had called, so we could enjoy the rest of the day. There was one problem: They didn’t have any spaces and said we couldn’t stay there. Luckily we had organized another possibility, but they said we couldn’t stay because we were 17 at that time and you have to be 18 years old. What a bummer!
We couldn’t find another camping-place in the surrounding and so we didn’t know how to continue. We wanted to ride around the whole lake in the next five days but we thought about going back home by train. Looking back I can’t believe we really thought about giving up, especially because we had come so far! But at that time we were right at the edge of our comfort-zone. Thinking about other possible solutions, we got into a McDonalds to talk and to find other possibilities.
Long story short, we had a savior. The moment we had left the McDonalds he came to us and asked about what we would do. We explained our problem and he came up with the solution. He knew a camping-place not far away that wasn’t well known but should have some space for us. We were so grateful to have met this man because otherwise, I would have been back home at that point.
The rest of the journey was awesome. We hadn’t had any other problems since then and could really enjoy our time at the lake. We met a lot of very nice people, saw beautiful sceneries and felt very comfortable out of our comfort-zone.
Now I could bore you by describing all the things we did at the Lake Constance, but I think pictures will make it easier for you.
My purpose of this long article is to show you how you can get out of your comfort-zone too. It’s about persisting to reach a goal, doing what is scary and never giving up. Once you get out of your comfort-zone for long enough, it becomes your comfort-zone. It expands. But when you stop doing the things you have done to get there, it will shrink again. I want to inspire you to expand your horizon and to do scary thing, because the area out of your comfort-zone is where all the magic happens. It’s where you meet new people, see new things and make experiences that can change your life. Try it and you will see for yourself.