Cycling For The Moment

IMG_0816 2014 comes to an end. Imagine, in say 20 years, we’ll be blogging “2034 comes to an end”. Doesn’t that just seem like such a distant future? And yet each day goes faster by so that decades might slip on, unnoticed…

Not that I feel 2014 was unremarkable! Quite the opposite. I fell in love (!!), started two jobs, moved back to the northern hemisphere, learnt to cook (sort of), and helped dream up a future business (more on that later!). But today, I am reminded of making the most of each day, each year. Today I have returned from a wonderful bike trip, and the fire, the passion.. the ‘carpe diem’ is burning bright.

It was a short little bike trip. Just 30kms up, and 30kms down. Marc and I have both done tours where we pushed out 30kms before breakfast, so it may even be exaggerating to call it a ‘trip’. But like any bicycle journey, no matter the distance, it had plenty of sweat, ups, downs and adventure.

Christmas is a time for family, to be sure, but with Marc’s in Canada and mine in Australia, we decided to make the most of a romantic holiday. We found two bicycles, lashed on a couple of plastic baskets, loaded them up with way too much (*heavy!*) deliciously home-made treats, and set off, wobbling, up the road. Our destination was a little village called Lofou, about half way up the mountains of Cyprus. A night in a ‘traditional guest house’ suite, complete with fire-place, loft and stone cottage vibe would be our prize. Would our makeshift bike racks, bald mountain tyres, and out-of-practice thighs be up to the task?

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It may only have been 30kms, but it was 30kms of unrelenting climb. Up, up, up. Sometimes, a nice 5-6% grade, the kind where you can click into your middle-of-the-low-end gearing and push on up at a moderate pace. Other times it hit the 12-14% mark, and despite being in my lowest-possible gear, I was cursing the wide nobby tyres and too-small bicycle frame, thighs burning as I urged my weight forward. We did, however, punctuate the journey with an out-of-this-world picnic, and munched on treats white taking in the majestic view.

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We did make it to the top, and our incredible accommodations were every bit as charming as we’d hoped. Champagne, chocolate mousse and scrabble by the fire… not a bad way to spend Christmas! By noon the next day we were packed and on our way back down the mountain. Another 30kms… but this time? Downhill baby!

IMG_0829 What a joyous feeling to be careening down a perfect slope, wheels spinning, watching vineyards roll by and goat-bells ringing through the hills. What a truly, live-in-the-moment feeling. The euphoria that comes over me in times like these, reminds me how important it is to follow your fire, as often as you possibly can. Sailing and cycling are my fastest ways to that freedom, and in those moments… whether it’s my gears propelling me down a mountain or the wind pushing me down a swell… in those moments, time is frozen – the moment just is.

60kms, two days and about 100euro each. Why not go?

And the memories? The memories are the kind you know you’ll remember, even as they are unfolding, even in, say, 2034.

Coming Full Circle

I have a vivid memory of the first time I saw the San Juan Islands. In a park, somewhere on the Washington Coast I took photos of a magic sunset, beams of light pointing down to the spattered land masses while my good friend Sarah stood close, both us smiling, calmy content.

When I pedaled down to Washington Park in Anarcortes, three years later on the final day of my bike tour – it was with a leaping heart that I realised: I recognised where I was.

Complex patterns on a map are usually the only reference I have for my surroundings… If I’m familiarising myself with the area, it’s generally on the way out of town. In the Carribean I was comforted by well-known trees and plantlife… now I was soothed by seeing old photos come to life. The pier we dangled our legs from still stood, sturdy as ever, and it may well have been the same fisherman tying up at the dock after another long day.

This syncronicity marked the beginning of a beautiful period. Old threads are pulling together – old friends, old memories, clearing through the cobwebs. My welcome into Vancouver was from a familiar face – James, the first stranger I met on my coast-to-coast, way back in Nyack, New York. Originally from Canada and visiting for the week, he came to escort me off the ferry and, through his brother organised amazing accomodation for my stay in the city. A beginning and an end.

Then I got my oldest friend ever, Ange, like a lung full of fresh air. Her familiar sneezes, her tales about Australia… the tim-tams in her backpack – all such comforting delights! The same city brought me Leon too, the Irishman I cycled with through Ontario who had also just arrived by bike. We ate ice-cream and giggled over coffee, able to pick up where we left off. It was rejuvenating to take a break from the usual 20 questions, all the getting-to-know you fluff.

If ever there was a story that needed an ending, it was Guisepi’s – (freeteaparty.org). We met during my last trip to the States, and frolicked together up and down the coast, falling in love along the way. To credit just one person for igniting my wanderlust would be too simple and too difficult – but there’s no denying Guisepi is partly responsible. He sparked my love of freight trains, he dumpstered my first bin-meal and just generally set an example for low-cost, high-adventure, freedom. I flew home, that time, with a broken heart and a longing to return… it took three years and a lot of other journeys – but finally I made it back.

So hugging him again, after only loose letter and email contact, felt as complete a circle as any. We spent a long time just looking at eachother – waiting for the surreal to become reality. Then it was a full week of endless chatter, sharing all that we have learnt in the absence and inspiring eachother once more. We wrote letters by the lake and rode our bikes over the hills… we made tea every hour, tried Tibetan and Chinese brews and read stories from our books (his on tea, mine on bikes) until the night came to a close.

More serendipity and I found myself a ride to Eugene with Mariah, a Madisonian and someone I felt I knew already. With a reloaded bike I managed 5 days of blissful pedaling down the coast, across the Oregon/California border… until time ran out and I went back to thumbing it.

My Dad and Niece were arriving to San Francisco airport at 10 o’clock Saturday morning. Straight off the highway, I stumbled to the arrivals terminal at 10.20. Dads suspenders, flannel shirt and beat up suitcase were easy to spot and tears came as I hugged him again after almost three years. My sister and her partner Dani flew in from Barcelona later that night, and for the first time in a long time, I went to sleep with family under the same roof.

An Elastic Economy

As I ride into the wind on these rolling prairie hills, fires burn on either side and the asphalt melts in the sun. Big trucks, carrying oil, or water, or supplies, or maybe just men… roar past, rushing to the next dollar.

While the papers are still claiming an economy in decline, North Dakota’s Western oil mining flourishes. Towns that have seen this rise and fall before – who’s broken railways and rusting grainers speak a silent story – are being built between the highways, the tarmac telling them now.

A sheriff vehicle pulls me over and mentions the several complaints he’s received – I need to ride further to the right. There’s no shoulder, and he know’s it, but I get the warning anyway. A woman who has lived in the area several decades says “Oh, these oil workers just think they own the roads!”. Campgrounds are filled with out-of-state trailers, yellow toothed men with gypsy blood, migrating to what work they can find.

A new technique being used in the Midwest means we can now not only drill down, but also out. One mile deep, and one mile across. That means a lot more oil. Apparently North Dakota now has access to more of the liquid gold than all of Saudi Arabia… and with 109 drilling stations in this region alone, it’s easy to believe. I’ve cycled past a lot of them, and it’s a potent reminder of the efficiency of the bicycle. Struggling on a hill, sweating in the sun, I remind myself of how little I need to go so far… knowing every mile I cover is an innocent, petrol-free distance, powered by granola and avocados.

When this boom will end is anybody’s guess, but that it will is a certainty. And then what? Which ghost towns will stand, crippled, as the only evidence of a temporary industry fueled by our insatiable thirst for oil, once as vital to our system as red blood? And what will come next? A new phase? A return to the past? Or just a barren abused landscape boiling under the same sun? I look down and see my legs moving in motion, and smile at the simplicity.

Hitch-Biking

Hitch Biking v. The art of getting from one location to another, by thumb and the kindness of strangers – with a bicycle.

They all told me it wouldn´t work, and I doubted it myself. Only one way to find out though, and I had never thumbed it in Greece. There was a bus leaving at midnight if my ambitions failed me.

In the hot hot sun I cycled, fully loaded to the highway. I tried one spot, then another, and another. Being able to just jump on and peddle away was incredibly freeing! On the third attempt, maybe 2 hours after I had begun, a car pulls over and carries me 40kms down the road.
Out of the mess of the city the rides come easier. A Turkish truck driver loads my bike into his empty trailer and off we go. Almost 12 hours later, at 5.30 in the morning I am dropped off at my destination – Thessaloniki. Actually, 5 kms out of town on the highway, but watching the sun come up while peddling towards it is always a joy, autoroute or not.

Facing Fears

I´m lying here, in my lonely little tent, amidst Croatian trees. The birds are whistling their goodnights and the sun is finally sinking low. I have clocked a record amount of ks today, around 130kms. Without time to check, I am up earlier than ever, thinking to myself ´it must be late!´ when in fact morning has just broken.

Having arrived in Budapest, after more than a month of cycling, I had little time to rest and just enough time to buy my brand new bike and all its gear. Shopping for it was horrible, but owning it is wonderful. Soleil was left with love in a park, along with a big poster that read `Free Bike´.
This marked the beginning of a new chapter for me. The Charlie story was coming to an end and I was about to set out S.O.L.O. Those terrifying letters! My last attempt at riding alone had failed miserably, dinting my courage so much it was ready to cave in.

The last few days in Hungary´s capital were spent broken hearted. Not only did I doubt my ability to cycle tour solo, but the brown eyed Wisconsin man had finally gone, leaving only my tears as a replacement. We had shared a hell of a lot together over the past few months and still felt strongly for one another. Nevertheless, a commitment to our own goals, our journeys and our innerself beckoned. So goodbye it was and alone was me.

It took a few more dawns for me to dry the salt and become unstuck, but finally Saturday morning, I began. The weather was shitty, the wind in my face. My strength still felt shaky, but on I peddled.
Needless to say, the universe provided. The whole day unravelled into an endless stream of the kindness of strangers. Around 6 Oclock, I was just beginning to search out a campsite (and feeling twitchy about it) when up ahead is a man with a flat bicycle tyre. Of course I stop to help and discover he is Robert, 30 something, from Germany. He is visiting his father who has a holiday house by Lake Balaton, not 20ks away, and by the way would i like to stay?? The night ends in much wine, good food and many a story from his ever so charming family. Full of questions, their pride and curiosity in me a reminder of the courage I had forgotten.

So now here I am, 80ks out of Zagreb, camping alone and happy. To all the people who endlessly speak of my `courage´ or my `bravery´, I hope only that they know it doesn´t always come from within. Your help in pushing me along the road is worth its weight in gold, and I thank you all so much. I have begun to grow back and my strength feels trippled. A good lesson in facing my fears.

Endings

You know it’s been 5 months I’ve spent in Holland? Little hops off to surrounding countries here and there, but the dutch culture and language ever present for a whole 5 months. It’s starting to feel almost like home. Time to leave!

Ha, no but really, so much has happened these last days, and chapters are coming to an end. I’ve been settled in the one place for 2 months, tap tap tapping away at the keyboard, madly editing stories until 6 in the morning. Ive seen the same beautiful faces every day, listened to the same music and drank the same beer. And now its all over. THE film is finished. My dreams, tribulations and aspirations have reached their heights, and I now own a very tangible expression of these culminations. “Skipping Waste” will be online on friday.

So what next? The night of the screening, last saturday, I lost count of the number of people asking “so, what’s your next project?”. Next project!? Man! To put down that camera and see through my own eyes for a while. Im grabbing my bicycle and meandering down to Paris. That brown-eyed Winsconsin man mentioned earlier has provided several hello’s and goodbye’s since, and im not quite ready to make it a final fairwell. Charlie’s riding his bike around the world, so i’ll ride with him… until my beloved city d’amour.

Plans, (and I have certainly learnt to trust those bastards with a grain of salt) are to thumb it to Athens for a new and different sailing expedition… around the mediterranean. A fortnight with the chunk of my heart known as ‘mum’, in Belgium, then south south south. Aka SUN SUN SUN! From there i’ll ramble around for a while… literally… the boat’s name is Ramble!

Old dreams, new dreams, everything flows freely and change is on the horizon which is all I’m ever really seeking. A last few days with my heartfriends here, then time to turn a new page and start reading between the lines again. Feels great to get back on the road!

Hanging up my highway shoes…

… and grabbing a set of wheels. Back on the road again, no one but future friends around me now.

Finally got my shit together and left Delft, heading south-east. My usual mode of transport mostly only exercises the thumb muscle, so its been a test to set forth from here by bike. One that im well glad to have taken though, as I peddle across canals, green fields and little dutch towns. The berries, apples and farmlands provide a fragrance of freshness as the winds carry them along. Its been nothing but blue skies so far, with the exception of about 30 mins today, where a heavy downpoor reminded me I really was in Holland. Although its a lonely way of travelling, and certainly very different to what im used to, its really nice to have so much space and time to just BE. Think, breath and talk aloud, it’s great to get your head together. Im seeing so much more landscape that I usually would, and even get a chance to check out all the freights that roll by!

Left Delft for Dordrecht, where I surfed in an anti-squat office building… room after room after room for me to stay in. From there headed to Breda, where i spent 4 days living, laughing and drinking! There was a festival in town, Breda Barst, and John Barleycorn reared his head more than once, so that a few days were lost in recovery. Much much fun though, 2 other couchsurfers, one french, one croatian, joining in the adventures too. Mariska, our host, was an absolute delight, and it wasn’t easy leaving on monday morning, another chapter over.

But another just beginning, and into the wind to Gorinchem I rode. Spent the day resting in a park, a night on an air bed, and finished in Utrecht today. Ive been in love with this country since i first set foot in it, but my admiration for its beauty has only grown. Each town I pass by gives me the feeling im missing out on something, and each one I stop in proves to me I am. Utrecht will only provide more stories im sure, two photographers and a theatre actor to pick and choose couches with!

160kms biked so far, many more to come and go, friends to meet, people to see, just busy living life. And it’s looking more remarkable than ever!  x