Earlier this year, Bicycle Touring Pro awarded its annual scholarship, a financial boost for young people heading out on their first bicycle tour, to 24 year old Polish-Canadian cyclist Kasia Szewczyk. Kasia’s plan was to cycle across Europe, from Barcelona, Spain to Istanbul, Turkey, combining her first ever bike tour with a fund raising project – that of raising $10,000 for Canadian charity “World Literacy Canada”
Now, after completing the ride, Kasia shares her stories and experiences with Bicycle Touring Pro in a 3-part series of articles centered around cycling, fund raising and life lessons gained on the road.
What if we looked at bicycle travel as a metaphor to life? What if we can understand and relearn some profound life-lessons while out there on the road?
Bike travel is about the journey, not the destination. Life on the road, in the sweat and dirt with the locals, can be quite humbling. It’s a reality check, and we pedal on in awe of the raw and real experiences that we encounter along the way. If you’re like me, forever curious of the world and of people, travel feeds your spirit and your thirst for understanding like nothing else can. Now, after the Ride to Read, I’d say that traveling by bicycle makes the journey that much more complete.
It’s not that “I was blind, and now I see.” It’s not as if there aren’t other ways to experience and glimpse moments of understanding. Simply, traveling on bike and being alone for so much of the time during the Ride to Read, I was blessed with ample opportunity to think and to contemplate. And some lessons, more so than others, really hit home.
1. Life moves constantly forward (change is the only constant)
Like it or not, life will never cease to move forward. The streams flow steadily on, flowers bloom, wilt and die, the road continues on into the horizon, and try as you might, you’ll never quite reach the end of it.
Travel will always be about the journey within – as we pass through different cultures, countries and cities we are the moving wheel, the places we visit the axle. Change is consistent, and all we know for sure is that a new town will always come after this one.
Isn’t it curious that every cyclist, and I mean every single bicycle traveler that I have met thus far, has either consciously or without realizing it followed a singular rule when on the road: never turn back and ride the same way you came. Whether you’re lost, need water or are tired and want to rest, it suddenly becomes paramount, some force deep down within us rears it’s head and cries: “never turn back!” Loop around, take a side path or keep going forward in hopes of finding what you need… but don’t look back.
2. No matter how small the step forward, it is still a step forward!
Great feats are really a compilation of numerous not-so-amazing feats. Cycling across a continent sounds very grandiose, as compared to cycling 20 km from one town to the next. But all that the trans-continental stuff is, are 20 km segments repeated hundreds of times. Every step, even the smallest, is significant, for it plays a vital role in the creation of the whole. During my ride, there were days when I faced strong winds, rain or continuous uphill. These were days when conditions both within and around me were so discouraging that I would have to get off the bike and walk. The most demoralizing aspect of all: at sunset, I had a less than thrilling 30 km to show for all my efforts. Staring at my odometer at the end of the day in disbelief, I’d sigh and remember that, I had, nevertheless, made some progress.
3. Do what you love & use the power of intention to get you there (Go on that dreamed of bike trip now!)
Whatever happens, don’t put off your dreams for an indefinite future. Go after them now, plan them into your busy schedule, meet with friends and tell them of your “crazy” ideas. Now they can hold you accountable; they’ll phone and ask how your plans for the bike tour in Tuscany are coming along. When your mind is focused and your intention formulated, circumstance really does align itself with your dreams making the seemingly impossible miraculously possible. By signing up for that travel-Italian class and getting out the rusty bike for a weekend road ride, you’ve made the first steps towards attaining your goal. Have faith that other perceived limitations will also resolve themselves in due course.
Without your prodding things along in the right direction however, you show no real desire for change, no real pursuit of your objective. Follow your dreams however wild they may seem, and don’t listen to those who tell you otherwise. While planning the Ride to Read and well into the first weeks of my journey, I heard many times over that it was irresponsible and dangerous for a young woman to traverse Europe alone on her bicycle. As you may have guessed, these warnings did not stop me from completing the Ride. Not because I’m reckless, but rather because I felt that I had prepared to the best of my ability, knew how to face future obstacles, and that no extra amount of sedentary research was going to help. It was time to act. In my gut I knew that what I was doing was good and that I would make it through alright. Looking back on it, I see how time and time again in the course of the project I was helped along, encouraged and supported in exactly the right moments. It was a strong reminder that when intentions are clear, the stars really do align in our favor.
4. Don’t take people’s word for it, go and see things for yourself (Travel and explore!)
That guy’s opinion you met on the road may be spot on – it really was a lousy campground, a difficult road to navigate, you think to yourself afterward. But sometimes your eyes see differently, you are pleasantly surprised or mildly disappointed because you had expected something different…
Move forward with a clean slate free of expectations. Listen to others, their advice might be helpful, but take it all “with a grain of salt.” Go and see it for yourself, and if you still want to judge, do so based on nobody else’s opinion except your own. During my ride I was surprised to find Serbia so bike-friendly; I was in awe at the remarkable hospitality of the Turks. Had you asked me before embarking, I would have never guessed that locals would gift me with fresh fruit and coffee in their homes, that upon my arrival in Istanbul a perfect stranger would drive me, my gear and my bike clear across the Bosporus to my WarmShower host’s place – all because I was lost, overwhelmed and in need of assistance.
I challenge you to cycle and travel with an open mind and heart – it’s the only way to see the world through your own eyes 🙂
5. Be patient, remember that everything is temporary (the hill won’t last forever!)
An understanding that everything, enjoyable and unpleasant, is ultimately a finite experience, makes for a healthier outlook on life. It helps us to once again glimpse the bigger picture and recognize the details for what they are. That 23 km climb over a mountain pass is difficult and it hurts, but it will not last forever. Nor will the wildly fun downhill or those endless fields of golden sunflowers. Enjoy them now, fully. A phone call from an old friend, a free sandwich at a cafe, a flash summer storm that you wait out under an ancient fig tree. Experience it all in the moment, remember patience and understand that this too shall pass.