« Weather Most Foul | Main | Basecamp Chez Nathalie - Belgium »

September 16, 2007

Europe Rules

LOCATION: Gerolstein, Germany
Longitude: N:50deg.12'58.
Latitude: E: 006deg.39'38.
Kms from Istanbul: 2,783

The weather, thank goodness, has improved the last few days, just enough to dry out my socks (note plural - I now have 2 x pairs after treating myself for my birthday) in time for them to get another soaking tomorrow and Tuesday. It's been lovely while it's lasted though.


The ride through the industrial region of Germany south of Frankfurt has been somewhat of a drag: the area is carved up by a mishmash of highways that cyclists are forbidden to ride on, forcing one to take a more convoluted route on side roads and bike paths to actually get anywhere. I hate to say it but the Germans do fit the stereotypical mould of being sticklers for rules. When I choose not to use the bike paths, riding on the side road itself for better use of time (riding on the bike paths is merely a suggested alternative), the drivers get hysterical, yelling and jabbing their fingers for me to get off the road, even if they're traveling in the opposite direction! Such a different attitude to other countries where people mind their own business. But in Europe it's certainly different. Even if there isn't a rule for something, someone will make it their business to you inform you that you're doing it wrong, whatever 'it' may be. I shouldn't imagine England will be much different. I can't wait. I do so love rules.

The Rhine

With just a few hundred kilometres to go before reaching the Channel my thoughts are inevitably turning towards the completion of the circumnavigation and in particular trying to get my head around what these past 15 years actually mean. It's actually quite hard to do, as unlike regular expeditions that leave a home-base to go off and climb a mountain or cross some frozen wasteland before returning back again, this expedition has become my life. My home has been the road for so long now that I have become disconnected from any one physical place or culture. I am English by origin, and I am returning back to England where I started from with Steve all those years ago, yet I cannot really say that I feel like I am returning 'home'. Home is now a nebulous concept connected more to people than physical places. Hence looking forward immensely to seeing my family, and to rediscovering what it is like to be part of a 'community' again, where ever that ends up being. The nature of this expedition is such that one makes friends for a few weeks, or months at a time, before having to say farewell. Goodbyes, always goodbyes - so exhausting after a while. Perhaps it's inevitable now that I've just turned 40, but I think I'm ready to trade in my traveling boots for a set of regular shoes that normal people wear in normal life...

...well, for a while at least. In trying to get to grips with the completion of the circumnavigation last night I looked back through some of the old video clips and journal entries from years gone by. Even the postings from a year ago in Tibet, China and India seem like an age ago and already I can feel that mystical pull to the ocean and far away places out east; desolate places that are the antithesis of standardized, homogenized, supersized Europe. What is it about these places, these wildernesses that draw the human spirit away from the safety net of modern society to embark on quests that can only ever involve a degree of physical suffering and discomfort? Why, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, is there a tendency for humans to '....to come down off the feather bed of civilization, and the find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints...'?


The answers are of course vastly complex and personal to the traveler or seeker in question. Some can be shared and appreciated by others who are affected by the same 'pull', but for the most part are difficult to articulate to those who lack the predisposition to wander in the first place. Like the big 'Why?' question that people always ask; 'Why did you start and why did you continue for all those years?' - there is no simple answer. Least not for someone who asks such a question in the first place, expecting a neatly clipped, one-line answer. For those of us who 'do these kinds of things' there is never the need to ask.

Then again I do have a lot to process when I get back in order to know which direction to go next. I have lots of ideas as to what do after the finish, but I need to step out of the picture for a while and just let the dust settle, to try and separate myself from the monster that has been created. At the end of the day the expedition is just an idea and I'm looking forward to being free from the insatiable demands of this man-made animal. But part of me wonders if this will even be possible.

In the meantime the expedition is not yet complete and the Channel crossing still looms: perhaps only a few days in the grand scheme of things but still potentially treacherous enough to cause a major upset if taken it too lightly. So until the Meridian Line is firmly crossed on October 6th (weather permitting), extra care must be taken in the final stages when the tendency is to get overly confident of success.


Posted on September 16, 2007 1:22 PM