This little video from Michael Stone gets right to the reasons why my cycle-touring seems, to me, so much more than just riding a bike. My trips have led me to let go of attachments to my ideas of the way things should be done. Discovering differences in cultures and nations, between the habits and assumptions that make up our lives and our perceptions of it, helped me to see things more clearly.
The total immersion in the environment that is forced on the walker, the canoeist and the cyclist demands an intimacy with the world that is so easily missed when travelling in other ways – particularly inside vehicles and staying in hotels. Cycle-touring forced me to live much closer to my heart, my instincts and my intuition. When faced with the basic human demands of finding food and shelter, navigating unknown lands and communicating without a shared spoken language I lived much more on my wits and was more alive as a result.
Developing a true intimacy with an environment and your journey through it demands one lets go of fixed ideas like schedules, planned routes and even the history you have embedded in your mind. Trusting the kindness of strangers and the advice of those I might previously have thought of as ignorant showed me just how attached I was to my upbringing; my unconscious English colonial arrogance was revealed to me as was the narrowness of my grammar school education. It wasn’t until I cycled round the coast of Ireland in 1996 that the the full horror of the famines there became apparent; it simply hadn’t been on the syllabus. And Poland taught me not only about the holocaust, but also how my mind had been infiltrated by cold war propaganda; I was stunned by how beautiful it actually is. India shook the very foundations of my attachment to western standards and ways of being and my previous sense of what is safe and real; hugely liberating and refreshing it was too.
From a comfortable upbringing in benign SW England, I found encountering earthquake-damaged towns in Italy, the huge contrast between poverty and abundance in India and, later, the incongruity of Roma children in Slovakia selling fruit beside roadside hoardings for Tesco and police corruption in Ukraine all helped unbind attachments to what is ‘normal’ or ‘correct’. And it was Italians, travelling Australians and Pakistanis who showed me what full-bodied, warm-hearted hospitality is all about.
When you are wrenched from the familiar something wonderful happens: the attachments that bind your thinking are severed – if you allow it. Sometimes it takes actually being in a new place and feeling it to shake free of one’s old misconceptions; those attachments to ways of thinking and seeing, of interpretation and judging. When you have nothing more than a bicycle and a few bags, a day’s ride from the nearest town and, sometimes, little idea of which town that might be or what size it is, intimacy with, and total immersion in, life itself is forced on you. And it’s a wonderful gift.
Perhaps the best suggestion anyone has ever made to me was intended as an insult: “Get lost.” Lose those attachments.