What to expect from this blog? What’s up with me and bicycles? What does bicycle touring mean to me and How & Why am I doing it?
- On The Origin of Blog Species
Bicycle Wanderings. A name that came forth out of my still existing photo journal blog Camera Wanderings. I know, not that inventive, but it scores on consistency, right? And it could be much worse. Before my photo blog there was my TransAm cycling blog with its monstrous name: maartencyclesthetansamericatrail.wordpress.com. Yes, laughing out loud is allowed. I still can’t believe that this somehow sounded logical to me. It will haunt me forever. But there are a few things that I learned from both blogs.
I loved keeping a journal of my not-so-adventurous adventures. But the goal to make it a day-by-day account of my trip was a mistake. It takes a lot of time to write something every single day and find a way to get it online. As the weeks went by I fell so far behind on my blog that it just wasn’t relevant anymore and I somehow gave up. It’s also a mistake to think that something eventful or interesting will happen everyday. Before you know it you’re just writing a very factual journal. At the beginning of my trip Thomas, my host in Draper, Virginia, gave me this advise: “don’t do a blog about ‘Today I did this, this & this’ because I’ll stop reading it after a while”. I wouldn’t be all too surprised if he did :). Instead of searching for yet another way to say something like “It was a great sunny day with lots of climbs” I could just post a photo to deliver that exact same message. The same goes for describing that frightening thunderstorm in Kansas that I saw and heard all around me before it finally attacked me at full force.
It’s in this spirit that I launched my Camera Wanderings photo blog. I like the simplicity of it and it will continue to be a place to post just a few of my better photos every week. But to keep practicing my impeccable English writing skills (*sarcasm alert), I’m launching this new blog. Here I’ll try to tell the story of my cycling journey across Canada (and beyond). Not necessarily day-by-day and definitely more photography based. For those that might be interested I’ll still keep some sort of statistics page with the places I stayed and the kilometers of the day. But a phrase like “01-07-’13, Council VA to Hindman KY, 153km” doesn’t say anything at all. It’s the story behind it that matters. For sure I did bike 153 km from Council to Hindman that day. But I’ll always remember it as the day that I entered Kentucky and immediately got chased by dogs. It wasn’t the best first impression and it made me write a rather unfriendly blog post. But there were some good things too that day. At Davids lovely cyclists lodge in Hindman I met John & Juliana for the first time. For the past six days I had been carrying Johns gloves that he forgot in Lexington. So this was a memorable meetup. Just like our stay in Carbondale ten days later where it turned out that we both coincidently had planned a rest day with the same Warmshowers host. It’s these kind of stories that I want to write about, and in between I’ll let the photos do the talking. Or the birds if they would have something interesting to say that day.
So Bicycle Wanderings is just some sort of hipster synonym for bicycle touring. But what does it actually mean to me? Well, traveling by bicycle is what it is. And I like it. A lot. It’s a great way to discover places. And it’s not some sort of a heroïc act. I’ve done eight (semi)long-distance bicycle tours now. And no matter where I go, I keep meeting these people who think that you’re some sort of adventurer with super natural powers. And I always tell them that anyone who wants it is capable of doing this. It’s really not that hard if you never go in overdrive and always keep continuing at your own pace. And before you know it you’ll fall in love with it anyway. So that will help you get through some inevitable difficult moments. In the late summer of 2005 me and my girlfriend at the time somehow decided to pack our bicycles and ride them from Dinant in Belgium to Reims in France in the next two weeks. Many bicycle journeys followed in the years to come and my current cross Canada trip for sure won’t be my last one.
Obviously there are many different ways to go traveling by bicycle. I’m not a lightweight credit card touring cyclist. Of course I’ll always try to keep my pack weight to a minimum. But I’m fully self-supported on my bicycle. Meaning that I’ll carry everything I need to get through the day: food, cooking equipment, a tent,… Camping is an essential part of the touring for me. It’s only on very rare occasions that I’ll sleep in a hotel. This is not only because camping is obviously much cheaper. I’m convinced that as I’ll get older and probably (hopefully?) get more available funds I’ll still be camping. The simplicity of carrying your own “house” and just putting your tent up at night highly pleases me. I don’t have a lot of experience with stealth camping, but I’m planning to work on that. I’ve stayed at a couple of hundred campgrounds now. Many are memorable, but one of the weirder places more recently was an RV park in Marshfield, Missouri. Because my type of tent has to be pegged down in the ground I had to put it up on the grass patches in between the actual camping spots. But on the plus side it was the greenest, thickest grass I’ve ever seen on a campground. It was a very quiet place, the bathrooms were cleaner than clean and there was a swimming pool. Weird to say, but all in all a great campground.
While preparing my TransAm trip I came across the Warm Showers website. “The Warm Showers Community is a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People who are willing to host touring cyclists sign up and provide their contact information, and may occasionally have someone stay with them and share great stories and a drink.” I’ve stayed with many great hosts on my route through the US and I would like to thank all those generous people that opened up their houses to host this Belgian guy with his simple but yet unpronounceable name. Whenever I settle down a bit more again I’ll try to repay all this hospitality by becoming a host myself. What’s great about the Warm Showers community is that everyone is somehow connected by a passion for cycling or bicycles. This always gives you some sort of a common ground.
For me bicycles are more than a traveling tool. They are an essential part of my life. I grew up in a family that prefers the use of bicycles over cars. This isn’t based on some extreme ecological principles or something like that. It’s just what common sense should be in a country like Belgium where everything isn’t that far away and where public transport (still) is an alternative for cars as well. My parents go to work on their bicycles as much as possible. I think I can count the days that I didn’t bike go to school in Brakel on my two hands. And when I moved to Gent I continued doing everything by bicycle. Things like shopping for food sometimes took some organization. But there’s no point in wasting money on a car when you don’t really need it. Unlike my brother and father I’ve never really been into riding racing bicycles. But the technical part of bicycles has always interested me. While I was studying in Gent I started doing a student job in a place where university students could come and repair their own bicycles. I was part of the team that had to help them on their road to a successful repair. And so it happened that apart from Ancien Régime History, I learned a lot about bicycles in those years. And I started building up and restoring some bicycles as a hobby. I guess this opened up the path to my career as a bicycle mechanic after I graduated. Let’s just say that repairing bicycles, day-to-day cycling and bicycle touring are different manifestations of the same passion. As I’m cycling through Canada right now, the touring part is playing a high role. But obviously this trip will end at some point. And my life isn’t just about bicycles. So on the longer term this blog will probably become more than just bicycle touring orientated. But for now its all about my Canadian bicycle wanderings.
There’s one more thing I want to say about me traveling around on my bicycle. Often touring cyclists are doing some sort of fund-raising during their travels. I’ve always been a bit puzzled by this connection between traveling and charity. But I guess it’s a good moment to bring a good cause to attention while some people’s eyes are on you. However, I’m not involved in any fund-raising for charity. I don’t think anyone needs me as a reason to donate to whatever good cause they want. There’s enough to choose from, just go ahead and donate. And I’ll make the promise here and now to donate some money to every charity fund-raising cyclist that I meet on any of my future bicycle tours. But me myself, I’m not cycling for some greater cause nor for a particular cause. I’m doing this because I like it. Call me a hedonist. Dreams are great. Lived dreams are better.