(or The Idiot Abroad)
A few years ago I wrote a blog about taking a bicycle tour across the USA. I did this in my 66th year of life and 3 months after being CPRed and defibrillated back to life after a major heart attack. My friends and family were of two minds about this decision; half thought me reckless the other thought me an idiot. For those of you who enjoy the past as prologue, please find and read that blog. It is titled, “The Ride of the Nearly Departed.” If you would rather skip that chore you can easily get the gist of things by just reading on. However, know this: I am still that idiot.
Many, many, and still many years ago when I was a young idealist and still in high school, some friends and I dreamed and schemed about riding our bikes from Baltimore to California. This was in 1969 and years before the TransAmerica Trail and the idea of bicycle routes in general. Our bikes were from toy stores and our knowledge of what such a journey would entail was from pure imagination. Lacking the time, money and planning tools we were likely spared the embarrassment of failure but also denied an adventure we could have dined on for the rest of our lives.
For me the dream never died. Over the years I had never given up bicycling. Mostly it was just taking my two children out for a Sunday ride or students on weekend excursions and later, jaunts around the campground that we owned after moving to Canada. I also ran quite a bit and my physical lifestyle kept my body from growing soft and lazy. After I sold my business and retired my adult son and I rode our bikes across Iowa as part of RAGBRAI, an annual party on wheels for about 20,000 cyclists.
That ride re-lit the long distance cycling flame within me and it rekindled that dusty old idea of riding my bike across America. A bit of Internet research uncovered that such rides, while not commonplace, were not unheard of either. In fact there were even guided and supported tours offered by a number of different organizations. The Adventure Cycling Association offered one of the most highly regarded and affordable and ways to do such a trip and I jumped at the chance.
As mentioned above, that ride is detailed in “The Ride of the Nearly Departed.” Go back and read it sometime. When I finished that ride I thought to myself, “I guess I can check that off my bucket list.” It only took a couple of months before I realized that what I thought was a one and done experience had inspired a desire to do something like it again. Looking at the globe, two continents stood out as possibilities within my comfort zone; Australia and Europe. A ride across the Australian Outback happened for me in 2019 and you can read my blog titled, “Riding Upside Down Under and Out Backwards,” if you want to know how that ride went.
2020 was to be my year for a ride across Europe and this time I was planning to get way outside of my comfort zone by doing the ride solo and unsupported. I looked at a number of routes and decided to ride from either the coast of France to the Black Sea or the same route in reverse. There is a well established system of cycling routes in Europe called the EuroVelo. These routes are mostly mapped, signed and well traveled by cyclists from around the world. The many languages would be a challenge but Google Translate and my smartphone offered an easy and affordable solution. I would be on my own for the logistics of food and shelter but I figured I could carry a tent and some food for those days when there were more miles than daylight between roofed accommodations. My plans were to be on the road sometime in May: then the world changed.
A virus with a spike protein outer membrane spiked my plans for 2020. At first, I thought it would just mean a delay in when I did my ride. Instead of going from France to Romania, I would reschedule for late summer and do the ride in the other direction. Covid19 was just a really bad version of the flu, right? It would burn itself out and the world would go right back to where it was before. Summer came and along with the rest of the world I realized that things would not be normal again until we had a vaccine. By November it seemed encouraging that a vaccine was nearly ready and I thought my trip would be possible by May of 2021.
In Canada we had to rely on other countries for our vaccine supply so while there were some good vaccines available, Canadians were a bit behind other countries in getting them. Covid cases spiked every time we tried to ease travel restrictions and lock-downs still persisted into May and June. Plans for a spring trip vanished. Maybe mid-August was a more reasonable goal.
Mid-August was spoiled by something called the Delta Variant and the logistics of differing pandemic regulations in the 9 countries I would pass through. I was reluctantly ready to give up the thoughts of a trip in 2021. My reluctance stemmed from my experience back in 2017 as I planned for my ride across America. That ride and all future rides were nearly canceled by my body’s nasty way of handling cholesterol. I was now 69 years old and who knows what other surprises my body had in store for me. I worked hard to stay in shape but all the exercise in the world can’t halt the aging process and you never know just what that process may have planned for your future. After that heart attack my motto became, “you better do it when you get to it, because you might not get to it to do it again.” (Say that three times quickly.)
I guess God loves an idiot because just as I was ready to give up, I came across an ad for a much altered and delayed ride across most of Europe organized by TDA Global Cycling. This ride was supposed to happen in the spring through early summer and from St. Petersburg, Russia to Gibraltar. It had been postponed and altered twice already and was now set to go from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Gibraltar, crossing fewer national boundaries. Most other rides by TDA and other organizations had already been canceled but this one stood a good chance of actually happening. Best of all there was still space available and it would solve my challenge of staying up to date on all the frequently changing pandemic regulations. I mulled it over for two days and signed up.
Since that day in late July I have been continuing my training and worrying the possibility of even this opportunity being canceled. Fortunately, the line still holds and my bags are now packed, my bike safe in its cardboard container and my body ready for what should be another great adventure. The best is yet to come.