Sunday, 27 February 2011

Yes, You Can Buy It In Europe

     Travel light. That’s what we hear and see from experienced travellers who talk and write about the virtues of carrying less. I’ll add my name to the long list of travellers who offer this advice, even after I understood the theory but didn’t follow-through before starting a major trip. 
     I, along with my cycling companion, M, toured Europe for 6 months on bicycles, sleeping in a tent with the odd treat of spending a night or two in a B & B or hotel. We spent months creating numerous equipment spreadsheets when planning the trip and finally came up with the 'one' that would do us well for who knows how long.
     All of our gear was to fit into 8 panniers, 2 handle-bar bags and 2 rear-rack bags. I carried approximately 60 lb. but M was a different story – she is only 4 ‘-9 ⅓” and weighs 100 lbs. soaking wet. She carried approximately 50 lb.
     We suspected that we packed too much when we loaded our gear into the taxi that took us to the airport – a few grunts and groans were heard from both of us plus the cab driver. But hey, we’re going for quite a while and we have to have all this stuff and what if we can’t buy anything in Europe
     We started our trip in Amsterdam and you would think we wouldn’t have any trouble since the country is fairly flat. Well, you should have seen us hop on our bikes when we left the home of our Warmshowers hosts. We both started wobbling like crazy – similar to how a child looks when learning to ride a bike – yes, it was embarrassing! The next incident was cycling into a head wind along side the ocean while we were heading towards Monnickendam. Luckily, we didn't come across anyone on the same cycle path as we looked and rode like two clowns on unicycles.
     Riding in Monnickendam on a cool, rainy day, M's bike skidded out from under her and she toppled on the street’s cobblestones. I stopped to go back and help her but she got up and quickly hopped on her bike as she shouted at me “Go! Just Go!” I was startled and didn’t know what to think and when she caught up with me, she said “I scratched the shit out of that car!” I asked why she didn’t tell me at the time and she stated “I was worried someone might hear.” When we were out of sight of the car, we stopped and had a good laugh but deep down, we knew we had to do something about the weight of our gear.
     Due to Netherlands’ cold, spring weather not helping our balance and weight issues, we hopped on a train to Milan, Italy where it was sunny and warm. Again we suspected we had too much weight as we had to climb up and down stairs in the Milan train station because we couldn’t find an elevator (this happened often throughout Europe). We found a campsite, pitched our tent and immediately looked for a post office to ship some irrelevant gear to family members back home.
     The weight and balance issue still didn’t go away. Cycling into Venice on the 4 km. long Ponte della Liberta bridge, the narrow sidewalk allowed us to just fit and we slowly made our way until I realized I hadn’t heard M's voice for some time. I couldn’t turn my head while riding and so I stopped and looked back. Way back! There she was - stuck; she couldn’t move and signalled to me with her hands held up in desperation. I couldn’t squeeze by my bike to help her and so I gave the proverbial shoulder shrug. With brute strength, she finally freed herself and we continued on. We eventually discarded other items during our trip as we realized that one can 'buy things’ in Europe!
     First time going on a major trip? My advice? Once again – travel light!
     But I know you’ll take what you know you can't do without and you'll say "If I don't take it, where will I ever buy it?" 

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Smurf Cycling

     The British summer, it has been said, consists of two fine days and a thunderstorm.
It was day 151 of our cycling and camping trip throughout Europe and my cycling companion, M and I were headed to our next campground in Chester, England. The morning started out in the usual manner – cool and humid. I longed for some hot, dry weather but we left that quite some time ago in Greece. Rising from our sleeping bags within the tent, we shivered and struggled to put on damp riding clothes before making our ‘must-have’ hot cup of coffee.
          Besides the inclement weather, I was also a bit disappointed in not meeting many other cyclists on the road which, I suppose, the poor weather may have been a factor. We were often the only cyclists in the campgrounds and even though there were motorhomes camped near by, I found the RV folks huddled together - which is understandable as I probably would do the same if I camped beside fellow cyclists. Also, the roads were often narrow with no wide shoulders and so one couldn't safely ride and have a lengthy conversation with their riding partner.  
     On this particular morning, we were riding under a threatening and dark sky. Cars on the roads were scarce and the only sound was the quiet noise of our bike's tires on the pavement. A movement caught my eye as we were rounding a bend in the road. As I came alongside a gate in a farmer’s field, I saw a herd of cows standing approximately 10 meters from the fence. I stopped and then, in unison, the cows walked over and just stood at the gate and stared at me.
     I was ecstatic and I immediately started talking with them. Of course they didn’t say anything back but a few of them nodded as if they understood what this Crazy Canuck was talking about. I glanced behind me to see if M was watching. She was and there was a look on her face that clearly showed that she was trying to guess my I.Q. But I really didn’t care as I enjoyed talking with others, be it cows or anybody else who would listen to me.
     After a few minutes of me rambling on about the weather, the nice people in England and asking how their farmer boss was treating them, we resumed our ride. It started to rain not too long after and so we stopped and dressed into our rain gear including rain pants and booties over our shoes. I also put on my blue coloured rain jacket and a blue helmet cover. I was told by numerous people over the years that I looked like a Smurf in my cycling rain gear.
     Riding a few kilometers onwards, we rounded another bend in the road and would you believe my luck as there was another herd of cows – this time, they were right beside the fence. I rode up to them, stopped and was going to chat with these teenager cows but when they had a good look at me, they immediately turned and bolted in the opposite direction. They ran approximately 20 meters and then in unison, stopped, turned their heads and looked back. They stared at me for about 10 seconds and then took off again and didn’t stop running.
     All I could chalk this event up to was that these adolescent cows had never seen a Smurf before. I slowly got back on my bike, started pedaling and resumed talking to myself.