Let me be honest. I have potential for improvement when it comes to how to deal with failed plans. I often get disappointed. So when the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th changed everything, I had some work to do. I had to work on myself.
The Paris attacks shocked us all. We are used to hear stories like these from the Middle East all the time, but when it struck the capital of romance, it does something to us Westerners. It was a brutal and coward action, made to target the most optimistic parts of our society. It attacked restaurants, bars, a concert hall and a football match. These spaces are known for their ethnical diversity, lively nights - overall successful for mixing religions and cultures. The terrorists knew exactly how to hurt the western culture the most.
I was in London with my girlfriend Oria when the attacks took place. We had just finished a four-day run from Cambridge. The next day we had a talk at Oxford University, having had talks at the high-ranking universities University of Cambridge, Imperial College and Royal Holloway; we had just seen a solid piece about our project Pole to Paris published in The Guardian; we had just covered 120 km on the British countryside. We were optimistic for the continuation, where especially the Brussels event the following weekend was expected to be epic.
That all changed over only a few hours that Friday night. Our losses can never be compared to the ones of the people directly affected in Paris; they have our deepest compassion. In the long-term however it affected us and Western Europeans more than I ever imagined it might.
Our run to 10 Downing Street to end the UK section had to be downscaled. The event in Brussels one week later, of which more than 20 friends and contacts had been working on for more than two months, was cancelled by the police at the very last minute. Brussels was in a lock-down when we rather secretly instead started our final section towards Paris. Far from the orginal big event planned at the Brussels Park. What is worse is the fear. Even the smallest villages in France are cancelling their long planned citizen participation in the Northern Run as they now rather look upon us as terrorist targets than reasons for celebration as our running journey takes us through their municipalities.
We are currently three runners on the road to Paris: Oria, her friend Zoé and myself. We looked forward to see more and more runners join in as the distance to the Paris shortened. Now, we need to turn down requests by friends and others to run with us as the police does not allow it. Numerous of our planned events during COP21 have been cancelled or downscaled due to the new normal in France - the state of emergency for minimum three months.
We, however, were lucky. So many initiatives were planned for years by hundreds of optimistic and engaged people like ourselves. The Climate March the day before COP21 started got cancelled, so is the event one day after the conference. More than 200,000 people where expected to march together in the French capital. That is 200,000 voices demanding climate action.
The delegates at COP21 will have a less disturbing climate summit. No get-together of human masses is allowed. While this is understandable from a security perspective, it kills a lot of the positivity leading up to the summit. The crucial democratic right to express your opinion on the ground is lost.
Now, more than ever, Pole to Paris must reach Paris. We must bring with us the voices of the people experiencing climate changes first-hand. We must carry on the voices demanding action on climate at COP21. We must communicate their hope.
We are lucky. We designed our project to be just as much focused on the journeys themselves as to our events in Paris. Through traditional and social media, school and university presentations, open climate events and two-way interaction with joining runners and cyclists up to now, we have already spread climate awareness for more than a half year.
Now comes the finish line. And when the finish line suddenly looks very different than what you planned, you need to work on yourself and adapt. You need to make the best out of every situation. This is now our goal for COP21.