We felt terribly guilty. Or at least, I did…
The day we left Sofia on a bus to Greece while waiting for our Iranian visas to be collected in Istanbul we had a few potential options. Go and climb some of the most prominent peaks in the Bulgarian Balkans, slowly roll towards Turkey, or get to the Mediterranean coast?! Being from Southern Italy, the answer came fairly easily. Having the strong approval of Ross’ mum who said: “I think you need this relax. Hard part to come!” made things even easier.
You leave home having a plan of the rough kms you will cycle every day but once you are on the road, you never know what to expect. Some times the sky is pouring down, others the road is too hilly to have a smashing day. Then there is your monthly period and its cramps, or you just feel too lethargic to move at all. Sometimes the view you get from your tent is simply breathtaking and you want to stop a day more to enjoy it. And some others you have to stand bye as foreign red tape delays further progress before you can move to the next country.
I guess this journey feels a bit like the Trans-Pacific Partnership of the cycling world to me. Without getting too political, i also suppose they both have their weaknesses. Theoretically you can reach anywhere anytime, but… Can you really??
With a perennially hungry travel bug such as mine, Earth is too big to be discovered the way I’d like to. In an ideal world where money doesn’t really matter (and neither does working) reaching the remote corners your eyes want to see, and doing it by bike, would be brilliant and fairly achievable. However, with limited time, on the shoestring, and with the state of current international politics, the ‘cycling-only’ thing can become a bit of a struggle.
Nevertheless, the sense of ‘cheating’ will heavily weight on you everytime you tell people that you are cycling from London to Melbourne. Incredulous, they will ask: “Really cycling all the way??” And you’ll say: “Yeah… Pretty much…”.
As a matter of fact, you’ll end up throwing your bike on a bus to enjoy five days at the beach, followed by another cheeky overnight bus to Istanbul because you realised you have spent far too much time enjoying the Mediterranean crystal waters. You collect your Iranian visa and get some more public transport to Iran. You know, with the current Turkish political instability you don’t want to risk it too much. And the list goes on, already foreseeing a series of unexpected changes of plan and surprises along the way.
So far so good, but the problem is…why do I feel like I have impudently decided to ignore the RULES?
You see, the “Rule Book of Cycle Touring” seems to be like the Holy Grail. Everybody looks for it, everybody tries to abide by it, but.. Does it really exist? For what that matters, I have come to believe that this is simply a self-restraining and self-regulatory psychological mechanism we impose on ourselves. The society we were rooted in before the start of the journey is no longer there to impose the parameters of our success or failure. We are out here, and we are on our own, free to move as we wish.. Still, we want to be reassured we are doing it the ‘proper’ way. Whatever that means.
And this is something not many cycle tourers talk about, as we are almost all preoccupied on how to disguise the fact that we actually took public transport to get somewhere. Our concerns focused on what terms our Instagram followers, friends and family at home are going to think of this, other than cheating.
Well, Ross and I promised to keep this journey as honest as possible, limiting the filtering of photos, and sharing the downsides of the whole experience, too – you can have a look at my glorious @BikePushing page on Instagram, it shows my endeavours pushing my bike uphill and you’ll get an idea of what we mean! So, here I am, writing this post from a sandy beach near Thessaloniki, reaching my nirvana and enjoying the sea water washing away the itch of the hundreds of mosquitos bites i have on my body.
While the sense of remorse – but not of regret! – is still here, i like to remind myself what Ross always tells me: this is our journey and we will carry on just as we have done so far, uniquely the Rolling East way. No need to feel guilty.
There’s no such a thing as The Rule Book.