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‘I couldn’t walk across a continent in 30 days, so I decided to bike’

How long does it take you to commute to your co-op job? It took Mike Nelson 33 days.

Nelson biked 825 miles from Brussels to Bern, Switzerland, as part of his five-week journey from his semester abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to his co-op at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy.

“I couldn’t walk across a continent in 30 days, so I decided to bike,” said Nelson, a third-year physics major at Northeastern who purchased a mountain bike and camping gear and then set out in late-May on what he called the “adventure of a lifetime.”

He took trains from Edinburgh to Brussels, where he began his journey after overcoming a mental hurdle.

“I stood there with my bike for 20 minutes not doing anything,” Nelson recalled. “I knew that once I started pedaling, that’s all I would be doing for the next 33 days. It was more psychological than physical.”  

“When I look back at the experience, I just remember how much fun I was having. It’s physically straining but it’s rewarding.”

Mike Nelson Northeastern student

Nelson biked eight hours per day, six days per week. He traveled on paved roads and mountain biking trails through five countries—Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, and Switzerland—and rested by camping in the woods and eating pasta. Finding the pasta became an unexpected challenge when Nelson discovered that grocery stores in some parts of rural France are only open three days a week.

“I’m very proud of the fact that I only crashed once,” Nelson said. “I just got a few cuts and bruises. I had this big heavy first aid kit, but I think I only opened it once for Advil.”

One of his favorite parts of his trip? Witnessing the impressively green grass in southern Germany. “I was following this river for 100 miles beside these cool cliffs and hillsides,” said Nelson. “When I posted pictures of the landscape to Instagram, I didn’t need to edit the saturation of my photos to make them look any greener. That’s when you know they’re good.”

Nelson, who is now on co-op conducting research on solar cells for the Polytechnic University of Milan, is already planning his next biking adventure. He hopes to tackle the Alps, which he decided to skip en route to Italy this time around.

“When I look back at the experience,  I just remember how much fun I was having. It’s physically straining but it’s rewarding,” said Nelson. “I want to show people you don’t need to have experience to do this. You can do things. The obstacles are part of what makes it challenging and fun.”