“It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, and certainly not desirable, as one’s hat keeps blowing off.”
Our cycling adventure does not begin in an exotic far flung village, nor does it begin with any joyous altitude slaying descents from snowy mountaintops. Even a catastrophic frame failure on an isolated stretch of windswept desert might be better, but that would be inventive. Instead our tale begins with the constant pitter patter of rain and a tent covered in slugs.
Now you may be hoping for fluorescent Pacific Banana Slugs, rare Pancake Slugs or perhaps a Giant Sea Slug, but I’m sorry, these were your run of the mill, garden variety, Belgian slugs. I know this because I watched them for days with my girlfriend Zoa, while we waited for the last of our bike parts to arrive. Having quit our jobs and sold everything that couldn’t fit on the back of our bikes, we were supposed to already be on the road, not discussing the cultural habits and projected slide paths of slimy hermaphrodites.
Luckily, before ‘tent fever’ took hold and blood was spilt, the horror movie finished and the feature presentation was ready to begin. With sunshine on skin, and wind in hair, we cycled into the horizon imagining voiceovers (probably Morgan Freeman) making way for loud upbeat music, and sweeping cameras panning across spectacular landscapes with titles rolling across the road in front of us. The adventure had begun and serendipity and misfortune were battling to be director.
Adventure on European cycling paths I hear you scoff? Zoa had been cycle commuting to work for years, but the last time I owned a bicycle it was the late 80’s in suburban Australia, so even ringing the bell held a fair bit of excitement for me. What we lacked in cycling knowledge and ability though we made up for with enthusiasm, and willingness to adapt. Never mind that we had no idea how to change a flat tire, we were off to cycle around the world.
We were reminded that adventure is a very relative word on a particularly unexciting canal cycle route. I pulled aside to the grassy road edge, smiling and waving a car through. Before I knew it I had lost my balance and tumbled down a steep three metre ditch in a spectacular double summersault in the tuck position. Luckily my helmet was strapped to my pannier, saving it from any damage, and the fall was cushioned by a patch of fiery stinging nettles. Amazingly the only thing damaged was my bruised ego, as I waited for a break in the almost never ending stream of racing cyclists to clamber out of hiding and catch up to Zoa.
The pancake plains of Flanders turned to the waffled hills of Wallonia’s Ardennes, which turned into a German funfair of winking sausages. Rolle, the owner of the bicycle store, stood over our fully loaded touring bikes shaking his head. A fat bloke was ripping around the car park on an undersized motorbike and our ears strained to make out the words. ’Half the weight is twice the fun’, he muttered to himself. ‘Half the weight is twice the fun.’
Admittedly, a guitar and two dogs are not at the top of most cycle tourist’s gear list. And not some paperweight Chihuahuas either, but a 15kg nut-job, and a 45kg food disposal unit; two SPCA rescued dogs born to test our carrying capacity, physical endurance, and sometimes our fragile mental health to the limit. Rolle had managed to travel the globe on a tandem bicycle with his wife raising their two baby boys carrying 25kgs of luggage for the four of them. My bike alone was weighed down by 80kgs of furry and non-furry luggage. Eeeek!! As an English man told us we must have ‘a certain kind of madness’.
But for us it is not the speed of the cycling and the daily kilometers that matter, but the feeling of a gentle wind through our hair, turning a bend to find a glorious view, or an unexpected invitation for eggs from a stranger. We slowly worked our way up into the hills to find a tranquil patch of land to spend the night. By the time the slug silhouettes started forming new constellations on our tent walls, we were enjoying the most simple and wonderful of pleasures. Not sex, we were too tired and filthy for that; but getting our weary bodies into a cosy sleeping bag at the end of the day. As we drifted into a peaceful slumber the sounds of a nearby Abba concert started pumping from some perversely large speakers. The longest journey starts with a single step we reminded ourselves as we checked the distance to our next border crossing.