10 Strange Things Bicycle Travel Has Done To Me

It’s difficult to notice the subtle changes that come over you during a journey of duration and difficulty, but certain situations have alerted me to them very strongly.

Stereoscope

I’ve only been travelling for a couple of years, but this must be where the curve is at its steepest. Here are a few, both good and bad, of the weird things that have surprised me recently:

  1. I’m mortally afraid of moving faster than a bicycle. Travel has made me resistant to many of the common fears of my home society, especially regarding the so-called ‘unknown’. But put me in a taxi or minibus heading out of town, and I break out in a cold sweat! It seems like such a silly idea to bomb around in a tin box on wheels at such speeds!
  2. I can’t sleep in beds. I’ve spent the months since I returned from Africa sleeping on the floor. Anything softer than a thin sleeping pad makes my body ache in strange places.
  3. I can’t take hot showers. They put me to sleep, and all of a sudden seem extravagant. Mornings bring with them the need to embrace the day, not to remember how nice and cosy it is to stay at home in lethargy.
  4. I can’t sleep after dawn. The first light wakes me up and I’m compelled to jump out of bed. The clock is irrelevant. A lie-in is an impossible dream, and staying out late requires great stamina or strong coffee. This is a far cry from university days of getting up in time to watch the sun set!
  5. I don’t contemplate ‘what if’. The decision to do something big now leads in a straightforward manner towards doing it, rather than thinking about what might go wrong/what other people might think/what if I fail. But sometimes this means that I rush into something and find myself in a pickle, having not thought it out very well.
  6. Everywhere is assessed for sleeping potential. I can’t help it! If I see a flat, dark, secluded place, I automatically start weighing up the likelihood of getting away with spending a night there. It doesn’t matter if it’s a city-centre building site, a field in the middle of nowhere, or your back garden.
  7. The fight/flight reaction has changed its balance. In a confrontation, the sensible thing to do is to walk away. But in Ethiopia, confrontations (mostly non-violent) occurred several times a day from which I could not walk away. This affected me so strongly that it still rubs off on every day life – not good.
  8. I read the news differently. I never really paid much attention to international affairs before. Or national affairs, for that matter. Now, events fit into a much bigger picture. And the spin and inaccuracy are almost as alarming as the misconceptions they generate in normal, decent people.
  9. I’m more sensitive. I don’t mean this in a romantic way! But I’ve found my emotional responses are far stronger now. I empathise more powerfully with the circumstances of real and fictional characters. Recently I shed tears of happiness for the first time.
  10. I know I don’t fit in. When younger, I struggled to find my place amongst society. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that I never will. To most people, I will always be a bit of a weirdo. So I’ve stopped caring about it.

I wonder if any of these things will ‘change back’ in the future?

Most cycle travellers I’ve met have felt their lives changed by their experiences. Many have involved an element of self-awakening, and a consequent struggle to accept what is revealed. It’s common to hear us extolling the virtues of bicycle journeys, and less common to hear of the problems it has caused us.

If you’ve been on a long bicycle journey, how has it affected you?

12 Responses to “10 Strange Things Bicycle Travel Has Done To Me”

  1. Lee Hughes

    One of my favourite posts you have done 🙂

    Reply
  2. Friedel

    Another great post. I really identify with your last one. I also feel more strongly that I don’t quite fit in with ‘normal society’ any more. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing…

    Reply
  3. Tom

    I thought of a couple more:

    11. I have a consumer conscience now. I’ve seen exactly how all-encompassing the world’s multinationals have become and how they’re killing off small business. Now I’ll avoid them wherever possible. It’s easy to come up with excuses why you can’t afford to pay more to a local producer/independent store. But I can no longer ignore the hypocrisy of complaining about it while voting the other way with my wallet.
    12. Camping is ruined. I’ll never enjoy the novelty of sleeping in an tent in the same way again. A tent is just a tool to get a decent night’s sleep.

    Reply
  4. Becky

    I find that I am not nearly as good at multitasking. Before I left, it would something I could do really well. Now, if you throw too many things at me at once my brain just shuts down.

    Reply
    • Tom

      Yes, this has happened to me too, probably a result of having to concentrate all day every day on what I’m doing (i.e. riding a bike)!

      Reply
  5. Paul

    Your list is certainly among the most interesting things I’ve read on your site, and much of it is quite interesting. I think the way cycle touring shapes one’s thoughts and attitudes to one’s own existence is fascinating and worthy of deep and sustained contemplation. I have only undertaken a couple of cycle trips of several weeks each so I am still looking forward to some more extensive trips but I find myself attracted to the relative simplicity of daily activity. Most days it boils down to riding, eating, resting, and talking to people encountered along the way. I love having no schedule. I enjoy having the luxury of time to stop anytime to look at things that catch my eye or to chat with somebody. When traveling solo almost every interaction with other people has greater significance and one’s intellect and senses can be totally engaged, whether it be trivial or profound in nature. As you have noted, it is not always good. But it is always real and much more affecting than watching it on TV, or even reading about someone else’s experience, much as I love reading such things. And as you’ve alluded to, one’s understanding of humanity changes, mostly for the better I think. Is camping ruined? Thankfully not yet for me.

    Reply
    • Tom

      “almost every interaction with other people has greater significance and one’s intellect and senses can be totally engaged, whether it be trivial or profound in nature” – couldn’t have put it better myself.

      Reply
  6. Nigel Francis

    Great list.

    Mine has to be No.10. I just cannot do society, I’m really crap at it!

    Me, bike, road, HAPPY 🙂

    Reply
  7. Steve

    I wear the same clothes over and over again. Haven’t touched three quarters of my wardrobe since I got back from the last trip.

    The not-fitting-in aspect is certainly true, but then that was probably already true.

    Reply
    • Tom

      That’s another good example. All my clothes fit into one drawer and are inevitably all technical/wicking/fast-drying/thermal/waterproof/merino…!

      Reply
  8. Magic Travel Andrew

    “I can’t sleep in beds. I’ve spent the months since I returned from Africa sleeping on the floor. Anything softer than a thin sleeping pad makes my body ache in strange places.”

    Sadly this does go away with time. If your experience is anything like ours you’ll re-acclimatize to a soft bed just in time to find yourself back somewhere they don’t have them. It’s possible to get stuck in a continuous cycle of getting used to a certain sleeping arrangement just in time to go somewhere else 🙁

    Reply

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