This week's guest blogger is Sam Mould, an 'artist-adventurer' who regularly combines these two passions to create works of art inspired by and facilitated by the undertaking of long journeys by bicycle. Here she discusses why cycling is such a desirable way to travel:
Why travel by bike?
My first response to this question was ‘it’s obvious isn’t it?’ The pursuit of happiness is on two wheels. My bike is a beautiful thing. In working order it responds to my every whim. It’s an extension of one’s being. But that’s a relatively short and uninformative answer and I began to wonder, why, in fact, I actually choose to travel by bike. It’s a fundamental part of who I am, and cycling as I recall doesn’t always breed happiness, in fact sometimes it feels rather like you’ve shot yourself in the foot and you ask yourself, why? why? why?
In London I ride to work, to the studio, from work, from the studio, sometimes for work, sometimes for art, to the lido, to keep fit, to bathe in the air and frolic in the sunshine, to get to the foot of a hill, to go climbing, to freewheel, to see the sights, to smell the sea, to escape, to forget, to remember, to quench my restlessness, to get home, to stay sane. Travelling by bicycle in London represents life beyond my physiotherapist’s tunic, life beyond who people think I am. It’s a way of being outside the daily grind.
But there is more to travelling by bike. Last year I made a promise to a kiwi friend of mine. She wanted to see more of Europe before returning home to New Zealand and after devising numerous ridiculous ways of seeing more of Europe, the sanest way seemed to be to cycle the length of the continent. That promise, made on a whim, led to a two month, self supported cycling adventure from Nordkapp in northern Norway, to Tarifa in southern Spain.
Now I’m not a cyclist, not really. And it turns out, neither is Liz. I own a bike. Liz owns a bike. ‘Have bike, will cycle’ became the mantra. And anyway it sounded like fun. Especially as it must be downhill from north to south, and who would have thought otherwise? That’s what the kiwi said anyway. And I trusted her. It turns out she lied.
Cycle touring literally consists of sitting on one’s bottom. Two months of sitting awaited…bliss. You could argue here that getting saddle sore on a daily basis, facing all manner of weather from horizontal rain, to ferocious winds, unexpected storms including hail, thunder and lightning, blazing heat to frozen hands, numb feet for hours on end and padded shorts that induced the John Wayne swagger is not the usual definition of fun. Not to mention the steep up-hills, endless camping, numerous bike mechanical failures, no morning coffee for 40km and an army of mosquitos that at times could put a real dampener on things. In reflection this might be a sport to be avoided?
But I would object generally about the daily discomforts of travelling by bike and say that, the pace of cycling is fast enough to feel like you are getting somewhere, wherever that is, and I say that because this type of adventuring flows better when the destination is wherever you end up that night. This allows for creative meanderings, opportunity to stop at that road side café, join that Spanish family for lunch, take a dip in that inviting looking lake, chat to the reindeer hearder on the road side or don the trainers and reach that nearby peak, yet it is slow enough to meet the people that make the landscape, bond with the disparate community of other folk cycling, be it touring, pootling, racing, training or families out and about, as travelling by bike automatically bonds you in a way that you cannot anticipate when you are on the road and it enables you to see the land; know the land that you are passing through. Travelling in this manner has brought so many chance meetings with people, all of which teach me something about myself. Folk who have shaped my journey, in ways that neither they nor I could have anticipated. And the key is being open to this- deviating from the plan, is in fact the plan.
By earning that spectacular 360° view, cruising through ancient enchanting landscapes, along epic coastal paths, along narrow canals, up monsterous mountains, surviving tunnels under the sea or living the free-wheel down the hill, with the wind whistling through your bones is like nothing else I know.
I believe that the nature of being in a landscape, which you yourself have lived and experienced through personal exertion, allows you to know the landscape in a different way. The sense of achieving, what you thought yourself incapable of, is exhilarating. Take a deep breathe; don’t look back. Take a rain-check and face your daemons. Some days your heart is pounding in your mouth and your legs feel like lead, other days you feel as light as a feather and a descendant from She-Ra.
Being in touch with nature and its forces it seems to me is crucial to our existence and this is achieved by exposure to the environment. It’s all about the view, even in the fog.
I’m not going to lie to you, travelling long distances by bicycle is not easy and begins with the word curiosity. I’m curious to see and experience different countries, but I’m also curious about my limits. There is something wildly personal about the opportunities that one creates for oneself. Even when travelling with a friend. This type of journey taxes your friendship to the limit. Even with friends, it can be very lonely. No one needs to do a long distance cycling anything, but it is surprising what you can achieve when you put your mind to it and the person that you surprise the most is often yourself.
There is an extensive rational for travel by bike, including physical, emotional and daily practicalities all of which have been touched upon, and all of which are autonomous. Cycling allows me to be in touch with my creativity like nothing else and breeds some interesting dynamics as an artistic practice.
I think that what I am trying to say is that motion of the bicycle is innate in its form: a balance, a freedom.
It is simplicity.
The word freedom is the word that I am searching for. Freedom is the word that I most closely associate with my bike and that is why I travel by bike.
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