Walking away from the restaurant on foot without my bike at my side, I felt like I had just abandoned my child. My bike is taking a break in a warehouse above a restaurant in Ohrid, Macedonia. It’s hiding amongst the broken furniture and dusty boxes, awaiting my return in a few weeks time. With the prospect of days without constant distractions and experiences ahead of me, I am hoping to catch up on lots of unwritten blog posts, mend broken kit and buy things that I will need for cycling outside of Europe’s comforting borders.
The past three months have already been life changing. I’m learning a lot about myself, good and bad, as well as about the history and culture of the countries I visit.
Ignore stereotypes about people in a country
“The Croatians are very unfriendly”, said the Bosnians, “People are dangerous in Albania”, said the Montenegrins, “The Germans are very serious”, said the French. Every country has its own opinion and stereotypes of its neighbours. Yet, every time I have crossed a border, I have found many of these negative stereotypes to be untrue. People are people no matter where you are in the world. There are always worse people and better people, but generally people are kind.
We are more capable than we think
I barely rode a bike before I decided to depart on my journey. Even the roads in Berlin, an incredibly bike friendly city, made me nervous. I liked to spend time indoors, and I was not the ‘outdoors adventure’ type. If I am capable of cycling almost to the edge of Europe in three months, then surely everyone is capable of much more than they realise.
I have been mentally and physically tested on this journey. For me the negatives are just things I have to deal with to enjoy the massive positives. I don’t really enjoy camping on my own, but I have to grin and bear it. I don’t really enjoy busy roads with trucks passing hair-raisingly close, but you put up with it. Sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is cycling up a mountain, but I make it.
The sun always rises the next morning, maybe there is a quiet road around the corner, and freewheeling downhill is amazing. I’m learning it’s not worth getting stressed or scared, you can’t change anything so just get on with it. If you do, then you will realise just how much you can achieve.
Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.
There are so many ways to live
Arriving in central London after my flight, I felt so confused by the bleak faces trudging robotically to the tube. I wanted to shake them. There are so many ways to live! Why are you settling for this one? I have been welcomed into over 60 homes now and have enjoyed observing how people make craft every aspect of their lives. The trip has shown me that you don’t have to stick doggedly to the same career in order to find success and happiness. Many people have swapped and changed, moved around and done things a little differently to the normal prescribed life.
People also make their homes beautiful in different ways, regardless of the money they have in their pocket. In Bosnia, there was a do-it-yourself mentality which, although hard work, gave people the freedom to create large homes and furniture with memories. Bambi in Mostar proudly showed me his bookshelf that was a table tennis table and coffee table in previous lives. I have stayed on eco-farms, in chateaus, 17th Century barns, a self-designed house of anarchist leftists, and in ordinary city apartments. Each space reflects its owners passions and sensibilities, and each home is special in its own way.
Being welcomed into peoples unique lives has given me courage to take my own path in life. A bulging pocket and important career are by no means the only measure of success or happiness. More and more, I realise having the courage and freedom to make your own life the way you please, however that may be, is essential.
- Amazing hosts and houses in France, not forgetting the cheese
- Emerging out of forest at the top of the highest mountain I climbed in Slovenia to stunning panoramic views
- Staying for over a week in Kulen Vakuf, making friends and painting a Tito memorial on 1st May in Bosnia
- Wandering around the gorgeous cobbled streets in Verona
- The kindness of everybody. I’ve been given fruits, coffees, dinners, beers, lifts, beds, couches, bike parts, bracelets, and the list goes on. Everywhere I go, people have been incredibly generous.
- Cycling along Skadar lake in Montenegro
- Finding the nicest place I can to cook my instant noodles at lunch. I’ve found some amazingly stunning spots.
Not so WOW moments
- The trucks in Croatia. So many trucks and buses. I always try to take the quiet road, but in Croatia this often wasn’t possible. I would hold my breath multiple times a day as huge lorries rattled past within centimetres of my bike at 90 kmp.
- Climbing the hills. The view always makes it worth it, but sometimes it’s physically and mentally exhausting.
- When a driver lost control of his van and swerved into my lane in Mostar
- The noises in the night when camping alone.
- Snakes on the road.
- The cold at the start. It was so bitterly cold and we both suffered bad chilblains. We couldn’t enjoy our breaks as we had to keep moving.