Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Back to reality

I wrote the following reflections about this vacation on the plane home. 

Three weeks on the road. Three weeks of a new adventure every day.

Convention has it that humans are exploratory by nature. Certainly, there is an argument to be made that the propensity for exploration confers an evolutionary advantage: the explorers in a population will find uninhabited territory in which to thrive, as opposed to staying at home, where they must compete with others for resources. Of course there is the obvious counter argument that the inherent dangers of exploring the unknown must be weighed against the advantages of remaining at home, where presumably there is safety and prosperity in numbers and an established base.

And while each of us probably possesses at least a modicum of this drive to explore – so celebrated literature and popular culture, and especially science fiction – clearly most of the humans on this planet are not explorers. The vast majority of us live in cities or cultivate the land in some way. Only an extremely small percentage of us are nomadic nowadays.

So we must quench our thirst for adventure in other ways. We travel to new places, see the sights, meet new people, taste different kinds of foods. One might say that the entire tourism industry is based on humanity’s need to explore and find adventure. 

In that context, and viewed with an “objective” eye, this three week tour on two wheels was just another form of quenching that thirst. But of course, I’m not objective at all; I experienced it! So while I can try to write objectively about it till the page turns black, it doesn’t alter the visceral joy and satisfaction I feel for having done it, nor the melancholy of its being over. 

On Wednesday, as we were cycling in the rain, I thought I might be ready to come home. But as I wrote yesterday, upon resuming our journey Thursday morning, I realized I could happily continue on another week, a sentiment I also felt on our last cycle tour. These trips are the only times I have ever not felt ready to come home. Such is the draw of waking up every morning to a new adventure, to new lands, to new people. After our last trip, I wrote it was the “routine of change” that we loved so much.

In the grand counter-clockwise movement of this trip, we cycled through four countries: Luxembourg, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. And while they are all very close together, I am amazed at how different each country is. Luxembourg, with its lovely gardens, hills, and obvious prosperity; Germany, with its winding river valleys, castles, colourful houses, and strict rules; Holland with its flat terrain, incredibly manicured gardens, cheerful people, and amazing bike paths; and Belgium, with its more rolling countryside, large farms, and of course, amazing beer. But for us, the common thread was the camaraderie of the road, rediscovered each morning.

So I write this as we fly home, 11,000 metres above the southern tip of Greenland, already thinking about where we should go next. With our second trip under our belts, we are much more experienced and confident as cycle tourists. On our first trip two years ago, we purposely stuck to countries that we knew had excellent bicycling infrastructure, but for this second trip, we ventured into more uncharted waters. While Germany is still a great place to cycle, it’s nothing as organized as Holland. So now we feel we might be ready for a less organized place – perhaps France or England; Denmark is another possible destination. And even though it’s now a very well-known quantity, I would love to explore northern Holland. 

On this trip, we learned that our wet-weather gear is perhaps not good enough for an extended period of wet weather (something we have been fortunate not to encounter in over five weeks of cycle tourism). And I’d like to find a way to reduce our weight. My bicycle (16 kg) and panniers (14 kg) plus myself (90+ kg) made for a lot of weight to pedal around. 

We learned that it’s a good idea to take a day off at least once a week (something we did accidentally on our first trip). But we also learned that we don’t like to spend that much time in cities. It is the cycling we enjoy most. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t spend three days in Heidelberg, lovely as it was. 

I learned that it takes me a solid week to shed the anxiety of not having place to stay booked in advance, and this is something I really hope will change with more experience. 

After our last trip, we mourned our return for two weeks, and there has been a similar period of adjustment this time, though both of us were plunged cruelly back into work immediately. But it has been good to reconnect with family and friends, tell the stories of our adventures, and show the pictures. And as I have done from time to time with the last trip, I will return to this blog and relive the adventure to some small degree. And that will have to do, until next time. 


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