Cycling life – reflections from 27 days on the road

It has now been 10 days since our last day on the road and it already feels like a lifetime; the change was so sudden and so complete. One day cycling was my life, and the next day it just wasn’t anymore. The transition was surprisingly easy and welcome.

During our 4th and final week of cycling we still had plans to continue on to Munich (from our initial ‘end’ point in southwest Germany), and I felt we could keep on cycling indefinitely. We could change our plans for the rest of our Europe trip and just continue by bike. The weather was getting warmer and we were loving it.

Sunny days and vineyard hills

Then on the final stretch of road, our legs aching from hills that had been non-existent until the last few days, our spirits deflated by the rain, and our energy levels exhausted from the long daily distances we’d lately begun cycling, a break was exactly what we needed. We arrived happily at our friends’ house and enjoyed a week of sunshine, relaxation, rock climbing and Black Forest hikes.

It wasn’t until I rode my bike around the block for one last spin before handing her over to her new owner that I started to miss the cycling life and reflect on some of the things it taught me:

Routine makes you happy and feels like home

Just like our old life together in Auckland, after a week or so on the road Rowan and I had developed a comfortable routine with individual portfolios for chores and general life admin. He would get up first in the mornings, pack up his bed and make coffee. I would pack up my things just so and make breakfast. If it was sunny we would take the time to do some stretching. We would usually stop along the way for 3 small meals: 2nd breakfast, lunch and 2nd lunch. I organised all the food and cooked dinner; Rowan generally took care of bike maintenance and setting up the tent. It was a routine that worked for us, and I think was one of the main reasons why we started to want to just keep on cycling. Often people get sick of travelling and are happy to finally arrive back home. I think the lack of routine is one of the main reasons for this – maintaining a routine you enjoy while travelling can make it easier and help you feel at home while abroad.

Life on the road

It’s extremely rewarding to stay with strangers

Whenever we were cycling through a city we wanted to spend some time in, we would try to find a Warm Showers host for a night or two so that we could stay somewhere central and have time the next day to explore. Warm Showers is like Couchsurfing for cyclists. It was through sharing meals and stories with these friendly strangers that we learned the most about Dutch and German culture and history, as well as the best things to do and see nearby. In Gouda we tried our first typical Dutch breakfast and left with a gift of stroop-waffels from our hosts. These crispy waffles are filled with a caramel apple syrup and taste amazing warmed up over the camp stove. In Arnhem we celebrated with our hosts – and the whole city – after the local football club won the championship for the first time in 125 years. In Bonn we joined our host for a BBQ with friends on the bank of the Rhine River to watch the spectacular ‘Rhine in Flames’ fireworks display. I will never forget the generosity of our Warm Showers hosts, and hope to pay forward the favour by hosting other cyclists when I’m home and have a space to share.

Clockwise from top-left: Beers with our Couchsurfing host Richard in Nuremberg; the Rhine in Flames; backyard camping in Bonn; checking out a jazz bar in Cologne with our Warm Showers host Fabien.

Fairy bread is more Dutch than Kiwi

This may not be a particularly insightful observation, but I can’t get over how much chocolate people eat for breakfast over here. Nutella is a staple in every cupboard, and even grown men eat chocolate flakes on bread for breakfast. I have to admit I loved it, which is exactly why there is no Nutella in my travelling pantry.

I don’t have my own photo evidence, but just type “Dutch breakfast” into Google images…

Rain is temporary

I used to hate being outdoors in the rain – it just makes everything colder, harder and more miserable. However, after having no choice but to keep on cycling whatever the weather, I believe I have developed a healthy tolerance. I’ve learned that rain doesn’t have to stop you being outside and, while it’s an added challenge, the misery is just a state of mind. If you keep on cycling, the rain will eventually stop and you will be dry again.

Rain and smiles all round (Rowan suggested I add a disclaimer that the rain here isn’t as heavy as in NZ. But the underlying metaphor for life in general still stands).

If you push the edges of your comfort zone, your comfort zone will grow

After about 2 weeks of sleeping mostly outside in the tent on our thin camping mattresses, sometimes in cold weather down to about 1 or 2 degrees, I found I wasn’t tossing or turning throughout the night anymore. Instead, on the occasion we slept indoors I would overheat and get congested. I had adapted to living outside to the point I preferred to sleep in the tent. I mentioned this to Rowan and discovered he felt the same way. Little by little our bodies had grown stronger and more used to the cycling life.

This realisation made me think about the process I’ve gone through with other new starts in my life. It has always taken me a bit of time to adjust to a new lifestyle. Having left my family/friends/soccer team/job behind on several occasions in the past to live in Wanaka, Canada, and now to travel long-term I always go through a period of anxiety. I question whether leaving my job was the right thing to do, I worry about finding somewhere to live and work in my new home, I miss my friends and family, and I doubt the financial wisdom of my decision.

Then, with time, I get used to the new environment, inevitably problems like accommodation and work are solved, new friends are made and life gets good. And the next time I move it’s easier, just because I have a little more faith that things will work out okay.