In my early 20s, I was in a phase of my life where I wanted to try everything. Experiences were my currency – and I quickly discovered that I experienced the most when I traveled. So I moved around the world like there was no tomorrow. I flew to Israel, Australia, Mexico. Until one day it really seemed like there might be no tomorrow. Diagnosis: bladder cancer. My life could have been over in an instant. But I was lucky – the cancer had not yet spread to other organs and the tumor could be removed.

Still, something was different. The superficial experiences of fast travel no longer interested me so much; I longed for more profound experiences. Quality not quantity. And I wanted to stand up for the beauty of our planet and do something good for the environment instead of exploiting it through my travel habits. With a German and a Spanish passport, I have pretty much the best conditions you can have for traveling the world. I am also very grateful for this privilege. That’s exactly why I wanted to use it to make a positive impact. But the truth is also: I finally wanted to experience a real adventure. Far away from the beaten tourist path, airport queues and hipster hostels.

The only question was how.

Then I met this solo traveler in Mexico. He had traveled around the country on his rusty bicycle and had much nicer stories to tell than the people I met in the hostels. At the same time I came across a book by two South Africans who had taken part in an ocean regatta in rowing boats. That sounded so crazy and unusual that I thought to myself: I want THAT too!

So I started researching: The usual route for such an experience is a regatta that takes place once a year from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. But I wanted to go my own way, or rather row and cycle at the beginning and end – from Paris to Pittsburgh.

Three years later I was finally there – with my rowing boat on the Atlantic. Behind me is the cycled route from Paris to southern Portugal. In front of me there are thousands of nautical miles of open ocean, with my eyes always on the horizon towards the USA. It was a few months of being alone. Of the non-stop rowing. And of thinking.

Sometimes I got caught in storms – and experienced the frightening power of the ocean first hand. But despite many anxious minutes, I came closer to my big goal every day. At some point on the Atlantic my head became the biggest challenge. I had to convince myself several times that land would eventually appear behind the seemingly endless blue horizon after more than a hundred days, so as not to lose hope.

Apart from that, it’s quite monotonous on a rowing boat like this: you wake up, check the coordinates, crawl out of the cabin like a hermit and sit at the oars. In the evening you are so exhausted that you fall back into the cabin. And then the whole thing starts again. At some point there is no longer any room for worries about the future, the world situation or banalities; the mind becomes peaceful. Constant physical activity means you don’t easily fall into negative spirals of thought.

However, there were also days when nature was against me. There was a humpback whale who mistook me for a toy. In the middle of the night he appeared next to me and sprayed me with his water fountain. Then he lifted my boat several times – I thought it was about to capsize. Luckily, he eventually lost interest in it and disappeared again. This was the most frightening and at the same time most impressive animal encounter of my life.

When I think today about what touched me most on the trip, it wasn’t a place or a person, but a time of day. I loved the sunset. When the ocean becomes still and you are among its gentle, barely perceptible waves and see the glowing sun setting into the water, there is something magical about it. It is reflected in the sea in such a way that you can no longer tell what is the sun and what is just its reflection, while the sky is colored in various shades of red.

People have shown me, no matter where they are in the world, that everyone has one basic need in common: to help others. I probably had the most beautiful of these encounters in the Bahamas. After my phone died in the middle of the ocean, I had no contact with the outside world for 68 days and followed the sun’s daily path westward. I then discovered a sailboat on my plotter and headed for it. The sailors not only provided me with a weather forecast, but also with home-made risotto – and said goodbye with a hug. Something that was really worth its weight in gold after months of being alone.

Coming home was more difficult. On the one hand, it was incredibly nice to see my family and friends again after such a long time. The endless space and the calm of the ocean changed me. I first had to get used to the amount of communication and the noise among people again. And speeds. After all, I was traveling at three to four kilometers per hour for months. The first time I sat in the car it felt a bit like a roller coaster ride.

Today I’m glad I had the courage to take on this adventure. Of course it’s a great story that I can tell now. But one should not forget how many uncertainties, fears and risks were associated with it. Sometimes I was called crazy, had to justify myself during the three years of preparation and actually lost friends as a result of the campaign. They didn’t understand why I put everything else aside for the goal of always wanting to find a sustainable way.

And it was also risky: I could have lost everything on the ocean. But today I know how much I gained from it. As strange as it may sound, in retrospect I’m almost grateful for the shock diagnosis. Because she gave me the courage to make my big dream come true. I’ve always longed for adventure, but only understanding my own transience showed me that sometimes we have to put everything on one card and tackle things before it’s too late. Luckily the bladder cancer is gone now – but my sense of adventure remains.