Two days ago, as we cycled a stunning coastal “highway” (aka bike path) under sun so hot we could bike shirtless, our odometer ticked past 4000 kilometres. Passing this benchmark has caused us to reflect on all of our pedalling over the last three and a half months. We thought it might be nice to use these ideas to update you as to how we are doing after 4000.
We really feel like we have gotten into the groove of cycle touring. Earlier in the trip, when we were more north, there was a greater focus on biking long distances each day as we weren’t thrilled at the idea of pushing our bikes through snow and sleeping in a pseudo-igloo. And although we left the colder weather when we finally met the coast, Croatia’s seemingly constant rain put a damper on things. But the rain was a hidden blessing as it flooded our planned route and eventually led us to where we are now: southern Italy by the sea where the days are warm, dry and sunny (it’s even a good enough climate for a banana tree to grow in). It looks like we have found a suitable place to spend the winter and we are excited for spring-like conditions for the rest of our trip.
This weather is perfect for maintaining a good trip rhythm. We wake up before sunrise to the roosters every morning and eat a granola and yogurt breakfast paired with a warm coffee from our thermos that we prepared the previous night. We often have breakfast guests as well too… Dave Matthews Band, Xavier Rudd, Neil Young… thankfully they don’t eat too much! We bike all morning, stopping for groceries somewhere along the way, and find a good spot in a seaside town to enjoy a lunch of fresh bread accompanied by cheese, tomatoes or meat, and often something sweet. If the weather is nice, we will linger for an hour or so before getting back on the road. Sometimes we explore a little village, or take a break somewhere of historical significance, or hunt down some gelato, or seek out internet if necessary. Now that we don’t feel any time pressure, it really doesn’t matter how far we bike in a day so when the sun starts getting low in the sky we find a good place to pull off and pitch the tent. We alternate taking turns cooking the meal (pasta! Which we often eat by candlelight, how romantic) and create an evening itinerary using the choices of a board game (chess or cribbage), reading our books, listening to an audio book, writing a blog or watching a movie on the laptop. We love structuring our days around the rhythms of the earth; we are very aware of things like the time of sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, the flux of temperatures. It’s a good way to live.
It’s also a fairly cheap way to live. We are happy to say we have been pretty under budget the last little while, which is a good thing since we’ve had some unexpected high costs throughout the trip (hotels because of the cold, trains, ferries, bike parts etc). Right now, our day-to-day expenses really only include food, with the occasional expense of showering. Caitlin, the accountant’s daughter, has been keeping track of our spending. The first week of 2011 worked out to an average of 10 euro per person per day. Pretty alright for Italian travel!
And speaking of the occasional shower, although we can get pretty dirty/smelly we have kept good health for 4000 kilometres. We have both had a cold, but nothing too significant and which we remedied with kilos of clementines. Alec threw out his back when we were in Naples (even though we weren’t cycling) but it now feels much better. Caitlin experiences more muscle fatigue from biking than Alec but it is never holds us back. Although we haven’t lost a significant amount of weight, our legs, lungs and heart are feeling super strong; we can now have a conversation while pulling a 45 kilo bicycle up a mountain.
The bicycles are proving trusty steeds, although Temagami continues to be quite bratty. Despite undergoing the same day-to-day wear and preventative maintenance as Nootka, she’s needed a new tire, a new rear derailleur, a new mirror, a new seat (which is now very squeaky), two new chains and her front pannier has broken off the rack. But the good news is she has only had one flat in the last six weeks! With the exception of two punctured thermarests and a temperamental stove, we are pleased with our gear.
In terms how our relationship is doing, like the terrain we have our ups and downs but for the most part the ride has been really smooth. We are learning lots about each other and growing much closer and in general just becoming a much stronger team. We sometimes have arguments, but they often are a result of more stressful situations such as high traffic, not being able to find a place to camp or poor weather. We know that arguments we do have are inevitable because of the intense nature of traveling with only one other person 24/7 for multiple months, but we are happy where we are and are looking forward to continuing to trip together.
Another inevitability is homesickness for family and friends, but we are really happy to have the internet to stay connected with people. We sometimes miss the comforts of home as well… a shower, a soft bed, electricity to help stay awake past sunset, drawers of clean clothes. But these are small sacrifices to make for a trip like this. Living this nomadic lifestyle means we don’t get too attached to one place in particular, which sometimes feels challenging or lonely, but it means we feel connected to an entire country and get a greater sense for the people, plants and landscapes that compromise it. It also gives a different meaning to the word home: our living quarters are packed up in our panniers everyday, but our home for the past 4000 kilometres has been wherever we are together, with our bicycles beside us and the open road ahead of us.
And although we are not a part of a community here, and although we don’t have any pre-trip friends in Italy, we feel like in a way the whole country (just like the other countries we’ve visited) is looking out for us. We are given support through honks and cheers, through people helping us with directions and through people offering us our homes. All of these interactions are probably the most memorable and meaningful parts of our trip.
And we are now off to continue to share in the Italian community.
Tonight we are staying with one of the couples we met at the Pompeii campground who live in the southern tip of the peninsula. We’ve written this blog on a perfectly sunny morning, barefoot on our thermarests on the shores of the sea and will upload it between here and our Italian hosts.
Until next time, all our love, and thank you for all your contact and support over the last three and a half months!
Alec and Caitlin