We started at the North Sea, we rode the Rhine and crossed the Alps, we saw the Dolomites, we took a ferry across the Adriatic Sea, we experienced the Balkans, explored the Albanian coastline and the Ionian Sea, we smiled through Greece, and cheered in Athens as we arrived at the Aegean Sea.
Ignorance is bliss –
Although my husband and I ride bikes often, this was our first attempt at long distance bike touring. We had never experienced an actual multi-day tour, let alone a self-supported tour spanning days, weeks, and months.
So how did you prepare for your first 2,000-mile bike tour through eight European countries? This is the number one question we are asked.
I personally prepared by reading a lot of blogs, listening to a ton of podcasts, and watching a million YouTube videos, and I tried to ensure I was in pretty good shape. I prepared my home, I bought the riding gear I thought I would need, I let go of any fear related to the trip, and I dreamed big. Also, at 57, I knew it was now or never.
Additionally, and luckily our friends and mentors are experienced in all things related to bike touring and this served as a psychological safety net for my overanxious brain. I’m forever grateful for the kindness shown as we learned to tour. There’s so much more to touring than just pedaling; pedaling is the easy part, and the guidance this amazing couple provided was pivotal in the success of this trip.
To boot, I just went with the old adage of what you don’t know, you don’t know. For in ignorance there is bliss. I also, believed we could and would learn as we went. And boy, did we learn. I remember the day my mind finally understood how to actually use the gears. BAM! It was as if a lightbulb went off in my head. This is not meant to imply I suddenly flew up the hills, rather I was starting (big emphasis on starting) to understand how to better manage the steep climbs.
Who knew muscle wasn’t everything? Who knew you could actually use gears to move a bike up and over a mountain?
Comprehending the ratio between the chainring and the cassette was pivotal, in addition to learning to grab back gears whenever possible as well as to serpentine up the steeper roads. It would have been nice to have learned this before we rode the Alps; I must have looked like an idiot attempting to muscle and pull my way up those climbs.
I also knew quitting was not an option, as I had invested too much time, money, and energy into this trip. These experiences would change me, and I wanted to feel them all.
Ignorance is not ignoring the obvious –
There’s a list a mile long of logistical items needing to be managed and organized throughout a tour such as: lodging, food, health, hygiene, maintenance, safety, routes, and schedules, none of which can be ignored. However, there’s only so much you can control — because ultimately, stuff just happens.
Short of injury or death, I was open to what the road had to offer. I really wanted to embrace the lessons and experiences God presented. Early on I decided my personal goal was to let each day unfold on its own and to not think about tomorrow, but to simply stay in the day and allow it to provide to me what I needed.
And honestly, looking back, had I known what the following weeks would hold, I may not have been so optimistic.
However, with purposeful intention, each day I chose to be ignorant and focus on the words written by the Latin writer Publilius Syrus: In knowing nothing, life is most delightful.
In hindsight, I probably should have shared my personal goal with the three other people in our small group. But with purposeful and optimistic intention I sought to let go of control and experience what was presented – the awesomeness as well as the suck.
This is not to say I wasn’t actively aware of what was needed to move this group; it simply means I trusted God to show me what He wanted me to see. And with each passing day I felt God present to me exactly what only He knew I needed.
It really was that simple, and with a childlike ignorance, I learned to embrace each day.
I also knew and expected to be both physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the day. And I understood before we could relax and enjoy the accomplishments of the day, we would still need to move our bikes, bags, and bodies up the gigantic hill each days ending ultimately found us on.
Now I know…what I didn’t know-
The whole ignorance is bliss narrative helped to fill in the gaps as I learned to tour.
Each day my knowledge base and abilities grew, and now I know what I didn’t know and life on the bike will never again be as simple. It’ll be just as grand, and just as thrilling, and just as rewarding, but it will never be as simple.
This was the best experience, outside of motherhood of my entire life. To have done this with my husband and our two dear friends was priceless. My husband and I learned so much about touring and about each other (he truly aggravates me the least) and were reminded how blessed we are to have found each other and to share so much commonality. Always so dearly in love with him, I have a renewed or possibly even a newfound respect for his inner strength, intelligence, and humility. As well as his ability to change tires — practice making perfect.
Daily as we pedaled, I wondered what my teammates were thinking.
Were they having the same experiences I was having? Were they seeing the same things I was seeing? Did they hear the same sounds and smell the same smells?
I assumed they were, however, I soon realized in reality we were four different people on four different tours, with four different sets of lessons and experiences to be had; and although many of the lessons were meant to be experienced individually, they were often felt by the whole.
So, when asked “how did you prepare to ride your bike from Amsterdam to Athens?” My answer may sound ignorant as we simply started at the North Sea, rode the Rhine and crossed the Alps, saw the Dolomites, took the ferry across the Adriatic Sea, experienced the Balkans, explored the Albanian coastline and the Ionian Sea, smiled through Greece, and cheered in Athens as we arrived at the Aegean Sea.
One simple day at a time.
Á bientôt Suz!
Coming soon – a review of our Fuji Touring bikes and Ortlieb panniers,
Leave a Reply