There comes a time in every person’s life where they take stock of their current situation and, after carefully scrutinizing their surrounds, present company, [dis]comfort levels, and the weather, they can only fathom that they must either be in the shadowy depths of a bad dream; or otherwise they made a big mistake somewhere in their life and despite their best efforts to walk the straight and narrow, accidentally ended up in hell.
It’s days like this where all your good upbringing and general calm disposition fall apart and you take the time to open your mouth and audibly gasp “what the…”
BICYCLE TOURING IN WINTER.
I’m not sure what part of the title sold me on the idea,
but for the past two months I found myself pedalling North.
North. North. North. North. North!
And the further North you get, the colder it gets.
And the further North you get, the shorter the days become.
And it’s wet!!
And normally it’s both cold and wet!!!
Why is it that we do the things we do??
What is it that makes people give up comforts and norms and jobs and homes and loved ones?
What makes us seek out adventure?
Why do we travel??
And why on earth would anyone ever dream of doing it by bicycle?
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this of late.
And I have yet to come up with any concrete plausible explanation, but I have some reasonable start points:
Firstly: THE WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE!
It’s incredible losing yourself in foreign cultures and cuisines.
And as you slowly pedal, the world floats by;
Transforming from forests, to sea scapes
From sunsets to storms to sunrises.
Valleys become mountains
And mountains turn to plains
And the ancient villages and towns and cities that litter the landscapes have something warm and alluring about them.
Secondly: THE CHALLENGE
It’s always fun to have to work out new cultures;
Especially when you don’t speak the language or understand the norms.
And trying to navigate yourself between surreal surroundings has its hardships too!
It’s a constant toss up between well paved and direct “highways” or taking the rock laden, mud smeared, farm paths – much harder to pedal our over-loaded vehicles; but surprisingly good for the soul!
In summer the route would have been paved with other cyclists and explorers; but winter left it mostly to ourselves.
It’s been a constant adventure trying to find the perfect evening “campsite”;
and the challenge has increased somewhat with the zero-degree nights;
and even more so with the rain when all we carry is a tarp and a supermarket tent that never even pretended to be waterproof.
With a budget we may have found ourselves in hotels and hostels; but where’s the fun in that??
And while we would have naturally done the occasional Couch Surf or Warm Shower (couch surfing for cycle touring) to keep the conversation fresh and ensure that we meet exciting people;
We did a lot more than normal; and with the cold, the warmth of our hosts was amplified profoundly!
Which brings me to the best reason: THE PEOPLE!
The past two months have proved as a vast reminder how incredible people are!
And we’ve been blown away by the caliber of awesome held by those who have crossed our paths – sometimes just for a friendly chat, but also those complete strangers who have taken us in and enriched our lives with travel tales and adventures, those who have inspired us, housed us, showered us, and fed us!
We have made so many new friends that despite our impoverished bank accounts, I have to call us rich!
We’ve also had the pleasure of reuniting with old friends and family (both young and old) and the warmth in our hearts from such encounters has more than given us enough warmth and momentum to keep peddling!
No matter how good or bad a day has been,
Hours of cold wet uphill wind and flat tyres are forgotten with a single hug!
(Unfortunately for the recipients, we aren’t always the most fragrant guests)
And the BICYCLE was a necessary means!
Not only is fuel expensive and environmentally unfriendly, but we’d probably still be stuck in France trying to fight our way through the “yellow jacket” protests…
But by bicycle you travel just slowly enough to really take in and relish your surrounds!
And after four or eight hours of pedalling you sleep really well at night, whether it’s in a muddy bog, on a concrete floor, or in a comfortable bed.
You also have the excuse to eat a lot more than you normally would, and who doesn’t like food??
With the exercise, your endorphins get all excited and happiness consumes your soul and your body feels good (with the exception of knees and Achilles and the bruises associated with car crashes, railway collisions, and other hap hazardous bicycle accidents)
Bicycles break and bend and get flat tyres, but you learn how to deal with the unexpected and uninvited breakdowns in your steed.
Just like you learn to tackle the hills and the headwind.
“Bike packing” makes you a stronger person!
I’ve now reached the lowest of lows: The Netherlands (it’s below sea level)
4000ish kilometres of awesome lie behind us and I have no idea what lies ahead,
but for today I sit warm and dry in a cosy home, coffee in hand, laundry in a machine, good people buzzing all about, as the world freezes outside and winter continues to grip the Northern Hemisphere.
And it feels good to have worked so hard to get here!
As Helen Keller so wisely put it:
“Life is either an adventure, or nothing at all!”