A man who saunters around observing society.
French, from flâner ‘saunter, lounge’.
This trip was never about taking time out from a career to get intoxicated for a year or shying away from adult responsibilities, but as I sat back in Vienna, half-cut and gloriously unemployed, I reflected on our month on the road so far.
I’ve been happy with the pace, typically doing between 70-100km/day. On mostly flat terrain this has been easily manageable to the point we’ve felt only one rest day per week was necessary. Regimented by stages in the route guidebook and the numbers on the Garmin, it’s astonishing to think five countries have passed below us already. Friends and acquaintances have commented on this feat, including our latest WarmShowers host, but I know it isn’t meant in flattery.
Our feeling as we reflect is that we haven’t yet transitioned from our life in London to life on the road. We’ve applied the head down approach to burn through the day’s ‘task’ just as we’d approach a working day, and we fear we may be wasting the luxury of time available to us. It’s only when we’ve spoken to other bike tourers on their own journeys that it has really brought it home to us.
One example is in Germany; we were on our way to Donaschengun in search of the source of the Danube. We stopped at a junction to check we were going in the right direction when a cyclist approached us. Josef, a German local of retiring age, pulled alongside with his well-ridden bike and red jersey, sun-bleached with experience. He kindly offered to show us the way, providing a running knowledgable commentary about the various ‘official’ sources of the Danube, the local brewery and the town’s powerful family. With a smile on his face, he reeled off a well-known German motto about the confluence of the rivers forming the Danube: “Brigach und Breg bringen die Donau zuweg” (which translates in English to ’Brigach and Breg bring the Danube along’).
Josef went on to outshine us about his knowledge of the UK from his recent tour through Europe. By his own account, his accurate recital of place names and history came from taking the time on his travels to absorb this information. This was commendable. We’re moving through places so fast we don’t even take the time to properly pronounce them or read about their significance. We often just name a place by a famous person they most resemble phonetically to make them memorable; Britney Speyers, Burt Bacharach, Ronald Regensburg and so on…
More recently we got chatting to a young German guy in Austria who was in sync with our campsite stops for a few days but always turning up several hours later. He explained his late arrival was owed to the fact he makes sure to take time to swim and sit by the river everyday. Putting my one swim in a river so far - on our day off - to shame.
As I said at the opening of this article, this was never a whimsical year off. This was to be a creative project, a physical challenge and time to experience the world. I made a list of things I wanted to achieve based around these principles, one of which was keeping a sketch diary for each day. Our completely empty sketchbooks are pretty good indicators in themselves that we should probably slow down.
On the one hand there is a logic to our pace so far; we want to get away from the familiarity and expense of Europe to spend more time in the unfamiliar, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of the beginnings of our journey. Beck mentioned a word the other day that she’d learnt at architecture school, the 19th Century French word ‘flâneur’ (see definition at start of article), meaning to wander leisurely, soaking up the goings-on around you.
This resonated with me. We talked about how this could translate to cycle touring and more specifically to our journey. Upon later research we discovered this was already a thing - aptly named the ‘cycleur’ by The Human Cyclist in 2013. You can read the full article here: https://humancyclist.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/cycleur/. An excerpt from the article describes our vision of us as cycleurs:
“Rarely breaking double digits on their speedometer, these gentlemen and women of the streets know not of sweat, Lyrca or road rage. Cadence is monitored but it is the turning of city life they watch, not the legs. A max heartbeat is set just above resting rate should they observe a scene that makes them happy to be alive.”
As we now near what would officially be regarded as eastern-Europe, we are making a conscious effort to slow down. We will attempt to become ‘stroller(s) on pedals’ (and perhaps even allow ourselves more time off)… M
- Total days on road: 31
- Total rest days: 3 (!!)
- Total distance completed: 2,180 Km
- Recent bike repairs: New saddle for Beck
- Recent Ailments: Dodgy back
- Latest argument topic: Being told to 'slow down'...