28 days of cycling.
7 days of chillings.
1 continent. 4 countries. 9 larger cities. Many villages.
3 days of rain. Countless amount of sunshine.
5 fellow cyclists. 3 Santiago de Compostela hikers.
1 hotel. 5 Warmshowers. 2 Couchsurfers.
500+ cows, 50+ butterflies, 5+ mosquitos, 1 squirrel.
35 apples. 1 kilo of pasta. Too much chocolate.
0 flat tires.
WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I’ve made it. I arrived in Barcelona. And I’m here to stay.
As a result of wanting to share many things but not posting for quite some time, I’ve split all I wanted to share in two articles. Read the previous article for a day to day update and continue reading if you’re interested in my attempt to reflect upon my trip. So get yourself a nice cup of tea. And some chocolate. Or any other (healthier) snack to your likings. You deserved it. And if you’re running out of time or find it boring, then just go do your own thing. I won’t notice.
Shall I save the best for the last?
Not in this case. I’m gonna start off with what I find most important to share.
When writing this specific paragraph, I’ve struggled to put my feelings into words. Backspace has never been used this much. I instantly get the feeling that writing about gratitude actually downgrades the real feelings and experiences of it. Maybe it’s influenced by all those articles such as ‘5 tips which lead to ultimate HAPPINESS lasting a lifetime!!’ and ‘Be GRATEFUL and all your problems will disappear instantly!’.
That’s why I’ve deleted all the explanation, thoughts, etc. and just kept it short – in Freddy style, I still like to talk, talk and talk. Anyways, I just hope – as a reader – you can imagine me being sincere and the usual Fred when reading the following.
Dankjewel. Merci. Gracias. Thank you. For real.
- To all of those bartenders who refilled my water bottles. No water, no life.
- To those who have hosted me, fed me and treated me on a hot shower. And to those who spontaneously welcomed me on their property.
- To those who inspired me to hop on my bike in the first place.
- To those who send me so many motivational messages along the way.
- To my bike, for always being there and not getting angry with me anytime.
- To my legs. For pushing the pedals.
- To my mind. For pushing the boundaries.
I’m blown away – once again – by the limitless hospitality of complete strangers. But also by the amount of love received from the ones who are close to me. I feel truly lucky to be surrounded by so many great, loving and inspiring people. Sometimes I wonder ‘waar ik dit allemaal aan te danken heb?’…
In the end, all of this does lead to happiness. At least it does for me. And I hope whatever it is that makes you happy, you will be surrounded by it as well.
Ok enough of the emotional stuff. Let’s continue to the not-so juicy details, adventurous stories and all the other things you would perhaps rather like to know.
What’s so special about the cycling way of traveling?
Traveling by bike allows me to both see things change, and to feel those changes. Your mind travels as fast as your legs. Time loses its significance, but it is still all in balance. And there is always something new. People, landscape, food. While the rhythm stays the same. Eat, bike, sleep, repeat. This combination of change and rhythm is something I really enjoy.
Moreover, it’s also all about simplicity; the way you crawl in your tent as the sun goes down. Carrying only what you need. And always wondering what you can leave behind. Fill up water bottles with water straight from the mountains, if lucky. Ultimately, you’re drawn to work with nature’s behaviour rather than trying to change it. It’s refreshing to just surrender instead of wanting to change some external factors.
If that’s not enough to like traveling by bicycle, here’s one more thing I did enjoyed. Both your body and mind are being activated, yet at the same time it’s relaxing and calms you down. Another perfect combination if you ask me. Speaking of which, getting to be both in nature and around cities is also nice. It suits my preferences of being inspired by the best of both worlds. Only, for the big cities I would prefer to not enter them by bicycle. But that’s something I can work on.
Oh and let’s not forget you can eat whatever you want. Maybe that would be even reason number one to hop on my bike soon again.
How did you get through the hard moments?
To be honest, I expected it to be physically even harder. But for sure, there were some moments that you start to question yourself why you like this way of traveling. And as Jono – semi-professional cyclist – shared: “Cycling is hard men. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
To get back to the question, I had a couple of tactics to trick my mind in experiencing the hard moments a bit easier.
- Thinking about the extraordinary things I did in terms of physical challenges. Mud Masters, reaching the summit of Huayna Potosí, following the Dientes the Navarino trail and keeping up with my triathlon dad. Telling myself “This is not that bad, you’ve done way more! So shut up and go. Just Go. Go. Go. Go.” always helped.
- Thinking about rewards. A nice meal in the evening. Reading my book. Getting more fit for tomorrow. Reaching a city full of life. Getting a warm shower. A snack at the summit. Literally every type of reward would help.
- Visualization. I’ve once seen a documentary in which professional athletes applied a theory of visualizing their victory. They would visualize the entire race and how they would perform all the necessary elements in order to win. So I visualized myself cycling towards the Arc de Triomf. Sun on my skin. Happy face. Friends. And I made it happen. It was just exactly how I imagined. Besides the Arc de Triomf not being accessible to cycle through. But hey, I got pretty close.
So that’s about the cycling and the physical aspect. Mentally I swopped around a lot; being happy, being sad and everything in between. Just being a normal human being I guess. Life is not only sunshine. But overall I just cannot make it less nice than it was. Happiness so many times. I could cycle for much longer. Concluding, the hard moments definitely did not cast a shadow over the happy moments.
What’s up with the wild part of camping?
I did it. Wild camping on my own. Going into the wild to camp was nothing new. Doing it all by myself was. I needed to take some ‘figuurlijke hobbels‘ before doing so. For at least a couple of evenings I found myself excuses not to camp in the wild. Didn’t have enough water, somebody saw me checking out the place, too much noise, too late, too early and so on. I knew I could have changed all these reasons to get a yes instead of a no. But I didn’t. Not yet. It was necessary to get over my own fear. And that was pretty hard I must admit.
But being extra motivated (read: frustrated) by my previous attempts and the desire of not wanting to let my own -and other peoples- fear win, I went out again to look for a nice spot. And I found it. While being very content with the results of my search, my dinner and the setup of my tent, I managed to leave the fear out. I actually felt safe and happy. A bit vulnerable but even more free and satisfied.
Nothing was holding me back of a nice night of sleep. I wasn’t afraid anybody would spot me or that there would be animals around bigger than I could handle. Although that’s what I thought. Until many mosquitoes were stopping by to say hello.
“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” by Anita Roddick was definitely applicable.
After the first night (of not a lot of sleep), the second and the third followed. I got the hang of it and would like to get into it even more. It’s just breath-taking. And yes, sometimes you might feel fear. But I guess that’s just a good thing. Getting out of your comfort zone. Show yourself you’re capable of more than you would ever think.
And to all of those who might think it is irresponsible to go wild camping as a lady on your own: it is not. In the light of recent affairs and some of the ‘solutions’ that have been discussed in the media, I believe we as women are not the ones who should change our behaviour. Let’s not get ourselves be influenced by fear even more. Clearly, you should be careful but just as any other person should. Let’s simply do what we want to do. Let’s be brave and enjoy ourselves.
What are some of the learnings?
This is a bit early to tell I guess. I still need to kind of process all of what happened. But for sure that I’m much more of a nature lover then I ever thought. That people are much nicer than shown in the media. That camping in the wild on your own is fantastic. That I was able to communicate with everybody. That croissants are really the best in France. That mountains and the sea can teach you many things. That you don’t need music if you got birds. That I can do whatever I want, it’s all about motivation and commitment. That everything always changes and nothing is fixed; weather, landscape, people, thoughts, ideas and emotions.
Would you do it again?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Perhaps on the trip to Paris the seed was already planted, but at this point the seed grew into a baby plant already and I cannot wait for it to become even bigger. Plans for the future are already there (think big: reaching different continents, leaving all the stuff behind again).
But for now, it is the right thing to settle down in Barcelona. Build a steady life (still with adventure, of course). Enjoy being on one spot. Getting to know the language, culture and people even better. And work towards the many plans I’ve got for the future. I’m excited to start my life in Barcelona and it feels good.
What are you not gonna miss?
- Dropping things such as your underwear or towel onto a dirty floor of a dirty shower.
- Putting sunscreen on my nose – and my nose only – every two hours. How did this lovely little (haha) nose decide to get red after 10 minutes without sun protection?
- Being confronted with my clumsy self and always ‘almost’ having some stupid stuff happening. Almost dropping the bike, almost dropping a bag, almost dropping my food, almost spilling my drink. Struggles of being me you know.
- Only buying 1 apple, 1 mandarine, 1 banana, 1 kiwi and 1 bar of chocolate. Yesterday I went shopping big time and I enjoyed it way too much. Clearly, fresh stuff is the best but I just like to have a big bag of groceries instead of going to the supermarket twice a day.
- Wearing clothes that actually need to be washed but I was too tired, too lazy or the facilities were not there.
What are you gonna do now?
Enjoy the sun. Sleep. Eat. Get myself a city bike. Get myself a job. Get myself a place to stay. Study the language. Make new friends. Meet old friends. Discover the city. Show people around. Dance. Swim. Run. Host cyclists. Share meals. Enjoy life basically.
Actually one of things that the past year of traveling really showed me, is that you cannot do it all by yourself. I want to do good to my surroundings. Because in the end, we are all part of the same world. And without all the people who crossed my path, this year wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was. Cheesy but true.
- Remember how I was talking about me being good at directions etcetera? Well, I’ve got to admit that I’m still a total dummy when it comes down to estimating distances. So the directions of ‘Turn right at the big house after 600 meters.’ were not that easy. Sneak peak into my mind: The big house? What’s big? Is it here? Or there? I guess it’s 300 meters now? Or 500? Or did I pass it already? Whaaaa confusion!
- I just love to cry. It’s nicer to cry out of happiness but also crying out of sadness gives me a sense of relief. When passing my own milestones, passing the French/Catalan border, being tired, being hungry, seeing the sea, seeing the beach of Barcelona. I cried. I smiled. Luckily I would always wear my sunglasses. Being sort of incognito.
- I got myself addicted. To French croissants. To the sound of birds. To the freedom of camping. To go wherever I want to go. To adventure. No way I’m going into rehab. Like a real addict I’m already looking for ways to continue my addictions in Barcelona and it’s surroundings.
- I still walk around in cycling pants. Jeans are just not comfortable anymore. Putting on make-up is also too much of a hassle still. Guess I will get used to the city life poco a poco.
Let’s continue to live every moment. Full of gratitude. And please come visit me in Barcelona. More than welcome.
Thank you for all the support!