I am a bicycle. My manufacturer, Trek, named me “FX 2”. My owner, he called me “Jynx”. Our last moments spent together were on the top of l mountain near the Austrian – Slovenian border. We had come far together, by this point circa 2000 km. I failed him that day, I knew my time was near, I could feel the slow grind of each gear as we climbed higher and higher. The friction becoming unbearable. I could feel the wobble and gradual loosening of my back wheel as we rode back down. I knew my time was near, I think he did too. I was sad to see him go. He held a small ceremony for me atop the ultimate peak, we said goodbye then. To my surprise, he did not seem disappointed with me, but rather, thankful that we had made it this far together. I am grateful for this final gift. Now I do not feel abandoned but rather at peace, having fulfilled my purpose I am free to look over the vistas of my final resting place. The mountains, covered in forests, seemingly unending, the odd cloud in the sky moving slowly, effortlessly, as I used to when I was but a babe. They remind me of a life well lived. I feel calm here.
Bikes are nothing new to the Dutch. The Netherlands is a small country, relatively speaking; despite this it boasts a modest population size. An enlightened approach to city planning was therefore needed to create the well-functional country we find today. By similar strokes it was this city planning that has earned the country as a whole its fame as one of, if not the, most bike-friendly places in the world. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. Groningen specifically has been streamlined so that the use of bikes is easy and the sight of cars rare, within the city centre. This may be intimidating at first for international students arriving at the university, but I am here to tell you that it will be okay and the best thing to do is just to join in the madness. Bikes however are not just for city life. They can take you much farther than you might ever expect; as long as you treat them right, have the right kind of set up and most importantly are patient. They can take you far, this is true, but it might take a while to get there.
Long-distance cycling or bike packing has increased in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. If you bring a tent with you, it is actually much more affordable than travelling by car or even public transport (unless you want to go really far). However, from my experiences, the joys of long-distance cycling are found less in the arrival at your destination, although trust me, it does feel very good to arrive, but rather in the journey itself. The word journey can bring many cliches to mind, however, in the case of long-distance cycling it really is true. Rather than being in a metal box of various shapes and sizes going so fast that you barely have the chance to see the world around you; while cycling you feel embedded within what you see. I love trains and am a big proponent of public transport in general, but all the same, while on a train I can’t help but feel somewhat removed from the ground beneath the tracks. When I arrive (by train) at my destination, it does not feel earned (except in financial terms) but more as if I have teleported to a new place, that could be anywhere. On the other hand, while cycling you begin to intimately know the road beneath your tires, especially when that road is going upwards. While cycling, you don’t just see the surrounding landscapes you feel it; in the wind pushing you about, in the sun or the rain touching your skin, in the smell of freshly harvested crops, and in the buzz of grasshoppers or the singing of birds. Suddenly you are no longer a distant voyager traversing meaningless space, which only serves as a waste of time, instead, you are experiencing the world around you as a part of that world, for better and for worse.
As a nature lover and to any other fellow nature lovers I cannot recommend this way of exploring the world enough, especially if done with a tent. I have never had a more immersive experience within nature nor witnessed more savage beauty than during my own cycle adventures. It is by no means easy and it is here I would like to offer a word of caution. Long-distance cycling is financially and socially accessible, be it camping or staying in hostels. You don’t need to be particularly fit (you get fit along the way), although it makes things easier at the start, you don’t need lots of fancy gear or expensive bike, well-priced equipment can be found at wholesalers such as Decathalon, a favorite of mine. What you do need to do is to manage your expectations. Most of the actual struggles I had while cycling was in my mind. For example, there is little more daunting and physically enduring than cycling up a mountain. I have found myself slowly going uphill for 3 or 4 hours at a time. The keyword here is slowly. When you go uphill it is going to take some time, you might have to reduce yourself to the lowest gear possible, a pace at which you might find yourself covering 10 meters in 10 seconds, which trust me is very slow. However, once you find that slow pace you can sustain, all it takes is patience; one revolution, breathe in, another revolution, breathe out. It can actually be quite calming, and meditative even despite the potentially burning ache in your legs, lower back, and hands. Once again there will be moments that are not easy, and it is okay, if not absolutely necessary to stop often and drink lots of water. In the end, if you have managed your expectations well, which you get better at over time (this includes working your way up to larger trips from smaller ones, day-long journeys are how I started), then I can assure you that it is absolutely worth trying. Because in the end, you make it up the mountain, and not only are you greeted by a stunning view, but you also end up having found a strength inside yourself that you may not have known was there before, I certainly didn’t.
To my last bike, Jynx, whose final moments were described at the start of this short piece I would like to offer my thanks. I would not have made it as far as I did without you, nor seen any of the beauty I was so happily surprised to discover. In the end, you were more than just a bike, you were a companion throughout the rainy days and the sunny ones. You will be missed, but, never forgotten.