The folks who believe the world is flat have never been on a long cycling tour. I realized this yesterday as we were riding somewhere in the middle of France. The “French flats”, as we had endearingly named this region. And relative to many places, it is.
But as we hacked our way through an overgrown single track path, important philosophical questions ran through my head. “Is this flat?” “Is flat a relative term?” “What is flat?” “In the end, is anything really flat?”
Just another day of riding.
So to give you an idea of what our daily rides look like, Here is a compilation of some “greatest hits” we have encountered so far.
Typically, we wake up around 7am. Sometimes to the programmed alarm on Rick’s phone featuring dogs barking, or more pleasantly to the sound of the town’s “morning bells” (a la friar Jacque) or matins. Breakfast includes loads of coffee, yummy bread, cheese and meats. We are working on not overeating before we ride, but it’s just all so good!
We finish packing, check out of the hotel, and load our bikes. Then, we sync our navigation and we’re off.
A note on navigation. As we planned our trip, we were nervous about mapping over 1000 miles. However, we are using an app called Kamoot that makes this relatively easy. As in any amicable marriage, jobs are divided. Rick is the Navigator while I am the Communicator. So every few days, Rick plans and saves our daily trips. He sends me a GPS file that I download so we can both keep track of where we are. Having both of us paying attention has really limited the number of wrong turns we have made. I like to have the nice Kamoot lady tell me where to turn while Rick hates listening to her really bad pronunciation of foreign street names. Luckily, we ride far enough apart that he can’t hear her.
Once on our way, it almost always feels like a fish getting back in the water. Bikes and bags equal a lot of equipment. When stopped it feels clumsy and heavy. The natural state of cycling is in the forward movement. The first 5 miles feel like a warm up. Body settling into a rhythm, mind calming. Then we typically get some sort of surprise.
Maybe it’s city riding where we need to be really focused and use our hand signals as much for each other as for motorists. There is no talking in heavy traffic and we have learned that the leader of the moment must use these silent cues.
Maybe, like yesterday, it’s a perfectly flat dirt track that is very overgrown. Here, it requires more mountain bike skills versus road bike skills. So feet need to be unclipped, two fingers ready for quick breaking, downshift for better control. And slow.
Maybe it’s stairs or a freeway or gravel. Or the ultimate surprise. A beautifully paved, dedicated bike path with tons of signage that gives us perfect directions.
There is always a part of our daily journey when I am 100% in my head. This is when I solve all the world’s problems (e.g. the nature of “flatness”). Solutions which are more often than not, forgotten by the end of the day.
The most important part of riding is in the psychology. And maybe this is true for anything difficult. Cycling long distances can be arduous. You have to maintain a positive attitude about every little thing or you are done for. It’s raining? Oh well, it cools me down. There’s a big hill? Just take it bit by bit . Freeway? Focus. It will be over soon. Hot? I can make it that shady tree and take a break. This annoyingly Polly Anna approach is crucial.
The other day I was getting so tired and hot. And I cracked. I thought we had completed our last hill of the day and I saw another one in the distance. It was really humid and felt about 90 degrees. Polly Anna left the room and Debbie Downer promptly replaced her because as soon as I saw that stupid hill, I started having a little tantrum. Ok, a big tantrum. It was like that little crack broke wide open and I became incredibly angry, my body suddenly felt enormously tired and I was ready to pack it in. I had to hold back my tears. That tiny hint of negativity, when fed, can truly ruin a perfectly good ride.
Because just around every turn is a new source of joy and awe. That fox that crosses the trail. The white water lilies in full bloom. The incredibly nice bike mechanic that gave me a lesson on hydraulic brakes. The little church in the tiny town where we stopped for lunch. The beautiful village with a nuclear power plant as a backdrop. The crocodile farm next to the nuclear power plant. Castles and rivers. Polly Anna returns!
And then it’s the last 5 miles. No matter how far we’ve ridden, the last 5 miles seem to take forever. Sometimes we drag into our destination and sometimes we arrive still full of energy. Either way, we are glad to be there. Liz, the Communicator typically checks us in. The owners show us where to park our bikes. This can be a garage or an unused ballroom or a garden. Yesterday it was through a long narrow corridor that was barely wide enough for our handlebars. But what do you expect? The building is from the 15th century.
Time to rest and figure out our evening. Shower. Dinner. A walk. People watching. A visit with the hotel owner. Museums and such are saved for our rest days.
And before we go to bed a few things. Make a hotel arrangement for the next day and look over our route and make any last minute changes. Charge our phones, headlights and backup battery.
And that’s it. That’s how we are slowly inching our way from Lisbon to Amsterdam.
Sometimes exhilarating, sometimes monotonous. Mile after mile.
One glorious day at a time.