In the aftermath of the crazy freeway days, theft, newly acquired allergies, knee pain, and rain, I am contemplating whether Steel and I should head to Europe. It appears that a number of stars have aligned to encourage me to think that the time is now…or perhaps never. A very generous friend of mine works for United Airlines and has offered to give me a “buddy pass” which would allow Steel and I to not only fly inexpensively to Europe, but also, in and out of different locations -as we basically fly “stand-by” meaning if a seat is available, we go. I am well aware that this is a very very special opportunity and without it, such a trip would never be possible at least given my current circumstances. The two places for us to fly out of would be either San Francisco or Los Angeles, and well, I’ve just landed in SF.
Timing is a consideration. When I plug back into the real world and launch into a new career, what’s the likelihood of having a few months to spend time exploring Europe on a bicycle? I’m figuring if we go now (versus wait another month until we hit LA), it’s still off-season in Europe, and by the time we get to Eastern European counties like Czech Republic, I believe they would be less expensive even in “on” season. I know Europe is going to be much more expensive than the US, so that means I may need to focus on more free camping (and warmshower or couchsurfing options) to keep to a $20 a day budget. Can it be done? We shall see! Also, this time of year the weather would be more desirable in Southern Europe than into summer, when I’m told it gets swelteringly hot.
Okay, and let’s face it, I am not getting younger. Steel and I would ring in my 43 birthday shortly after our arrival, and while all my pieces parts seem to be working well right now, I am certainly aware of how quickly that can change. The game plan would be to fly into Paris, where I have sweet friend, Lucila, who has offered for us to stay, and serve as a launching place. Nothing like giving someone a week’s notice of your arrival – not cool, so I am very appreciative of her offer.
Just as I was feeling overwhelmed with fear and apprehension, into my campground cycled Steven from Wales, followed the next day by Lutz from Germany. Ironically, these were the only touring cyclists I’ve met from Europe on this journey. How’s that for timing? It certainly seemed like some sort of sign that they would cycle into my world just when I needed their insight and encouragement. Both have done extensive bicycle touring, and through some of the countries where I want to go. Steven has cycled through France, Switzerland, and Italy and was a wealth of information on suggested routes, and other details. Pretty much he alleviated all my fears. He made cycling the highest pass in Europe through Switzerland sound like a breeze, and absolutely something I must do! Yikes…me? Could I really do such a thing? Lutz is the first cyclist I met using a Garmin GPS. I got one myself upon recommendation from a US fellow who cycles Europe annually and swore by it. However, I have never used it, and have been intimidated to try.
Why Europe? Why not just ride in the US, or head south through Mexico, and beyond? Well, first off I’ve spent quite a lot of time living and working in Central America (& loved it), but very little time in Europe and no time in many of the countries I hope to explore. My grandfather on my mom’s side is from Germany, and his parents from Switzerland, so I think it would be interesting to try and explore some of my family roots. If timing and resources hold, I would love to end my trip visiting with my Swedish family on my dad’s side. Also, many countries in Europe operate as social democracies and based on my brief exposure, I find it fascinating to learn about different systems, cultures, and ways of life. In distances smaller than our US states, I would be experiencing entirely different countries and cultures. Yep, that interests me…a lot.
Also, eighteen years ago, I bicycle toured for three months in Northern Europe -pre cell phone and gps. I had never ridden my bike more than 10 miles before departing, and pretty much stuck to main routes because there was no way to constantly get local maps of areas. Even so, the experience was life altering. It is a bit of a dream to get another opportunity to explore other parts of Europe and get off main roads. Europe is supposed to be full of cycling routes -and boy would it be cool to see what that’s all about. Another US touring cyclist explained that in Europe, using a cell phone and a data plan for navigation just is not feasible, and there is the issue of keeping a phone charged. The batteries in a GPS are much longer lasting, and then can be recharged. My only disappointment was that after spending $150 on a GPS, I learned that I still need to acquire maps of the areas I want to go, which could cost another $60 or more depending upon where I go! What?? However, Lutz kindly gave me some insight on where to look online for free maps. I’ll soon do this and report back.
One looming deterrent of going abroad is that my dissertation is still not done. It is top priority as it is a large part of the puzzle that enables me to conceivably launch into an academic career. Also, I have not done any writing regarding the educational book I am under contract to write. That must get rolling too. On a positive note, concepts & projects related to Semester on Cycle have advanced, and I am excited to explore some more elements abroad. I do feel like I have advanced on the writing projects and have learned so much, and have had such wonderful cycling experiences. It is just a question of timing. Will I regret later if I do not go? If it gets too crazy expensive, I figure I can fly back to the US. I absolutely must keep to the same “program” that I was doing here. Basically, I’m just living my life from a bicycle in an effort to accomplish a number of goals.
It is a bit overwhelming to think of not only preparing to depart, but doing the prep from my bicycle. I will definitely need to call on the help of some SF friends to make this happen without my head popping off.