The longer I wait to write, the harder it gets. If only I had a little magical computer that could pop up out of nowhere, so that I could write as I go along, because the magic is in the daily details, not a retrospective log of what I did when.
Has it really been a month since I’ve written? How is that possible, when I’ve lived in so many different worlds?
What to write? A thousand images dart into my head. Gypsy caravans… the old man walking his cow down the road… drawing our water out of hundred-plus-year-old wells… fields of sunflowers… sweat running down my face… legs feeling so strong and so fatigued at the same time…
My Biketour birthday. Thermal mineral baths to start the day, fancy breakfast, great company, perfect weather, a much better road than expected. Coffee and chocolate, birthday presents, vegan cake, and a surprise party. The group asking to hear my life story, telling the short version over cold beer and a campfire…
My little tent, making everyplace home, pitched at the top of the Carpathian Mountains. Rock cliffs and lush forest towering into the blue sky…
watching the full moon rise over the mountains of Transylvania… visiting the birthplace of Count Dracula, (and learning his true story)… asking to use the toilet and being directed to an ancient underground torch-lit passage hidden under the city’s main plaza, remnants of the days of castle sieges and enemy invasions, now converted into a nightclub…
But that’s all Romania. There were worlds before Romania.
Serbia. How nice everyone was! Lacking tourists almost completely, everyone seemed to greet us as human beings, guests in their home, friends from far away.
And the Exit Festival, our Serbia side excursion. I pushed it a bit too hard up the hills, and my knees asked for a break. No problem, the biggest music festival in Eastern Europe is just a bus ride away, and three other bike-tourers’ knees need a break too. Off we go. Four days of nonstop dancing (different muscles, fine for the knees!), people from all over Europe, a dozen bands or DJ’s playing at any given time within the walls of the old castle, a labyrinth of hidden surprises, secret rooms, and giant outdoor stages.
It didn’t really fit into my budget, so I stood at the entrance with a sign that said "need ticket, no money." Everyone either laughed or looked on in sympathy until someone walked up and said, "Hey, I have a VIP pass no one is using today, I’ve been trying to give it away for a half hour, come on!" I couldn’t actually say I was surprised, but I certainly was appreciative. We danced all night and the rising sun only re-energized the party, as thousands danced in the new day.
Crossing the border into Romania. How much changes with the imaginary political line! The currency, the time, the language, the color of the skin, the number of dogs on the street, the drinking water, the style of coffee, the brands of beer, the number of smiles, the hairstyles, the dancing…
Our Romanian organizer didn’t show up at the border. He didn’t answer his phone or return his SMS’s. We were alone, together, in this strange new country, not a single Romanian in our group, and only one person, Xavier, who spoke any Romanian. The adventure continues. It actually turned out to be something of a blessing. With no one to organize sleeping places, plan routes, or introduce us to the culture, we had to figure it out ourselves. And we got to see how wonderfully helpful people can be.
One day four of us rolled into a small town, unable to complete the 90 km we had aspired to, since what looked like roads on the map turned out to be something closer to cattle grazing paths. We asked an official-looking guy about places to sleep and he seemed thrilled to have something to do. He insisted that we wait while he go wake up the mayor! Of course we protested -it was past 11pm- but he was off, and soon returned with keys to a little schoolyard, which we happily made our home for the night.
It’s funny, we are often treated as celebrities. We’ve sat around fancy tables in more than one city hall, hobnobbing with city officials who jump on the opportunity to bolster their political careers a bit by holding a press conference with the international delegation of ecological cyclists who are promoting ecotourism in their region. A bit boring, but at least they listen to our message of ecological sustainability and help it get onto local media.
More than anything else, two things stand out for me as the highlights of Biketour. One is the never-ending adventure. We never know what the next day will hold, and, like the scenery, nothing ever stays the same. Sometimes it’s blissful, sometimes it’s painful, but it’s never boring.
The second and most important is the community. I really feel like each person here is something akin to family. Spending each day together, making decisions together, playing together, I feel like I know the people in our little caravan better that some people I’ve known for years. I know that at any given time, someone knows where I am and cares that I am ok. Whether we’re dealing with a head-on collision with runaway horses (two cyclists had to hurl themselves over the siderail to escape!), the madness of local nightlife (barfights, not realizing the two friendly women wanted money for their company, crashing weddings, and joining traditional dances) or just the rigors of cycling to camp in the heat or rain to make dinner, people always seem to be there for each other as best they can. No one gets forgotten or left behind, dinner is saved for those who miss it, and I think everyone here genuinely cares for everyone else. It’s far from perfect, and we all get frustrated at times, but cycling along with the others, all so different and yet with so much in common, I always have a feeling of belonging. It’s a feeling of peace, a feeling of love. It’s a feeling being home, and that home is becoming a bigger and bigger place every day.
Tomorrow we cross the border into Moldova. After that it’s just a few days til we arrive at the Ecotopia festival. The end of Biketour, officially, but I get the feeling that Biketour will continue on afterward. Another ending, another beginning. The adventure continues.
- July 2005: The Tunnels
- Aug. 19, 2005: Chisinau