Jun
2
2010

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Something's Got to Give

by Going Slowly

Tyler:

We couldn't bear to leave our tent this morning. Safe and warm in our secluded forest free-camp, listening to the constant patter of water pelting our rain fly, all motivation to start the day eluded us. The skies were dark and unwelcoming yet again. Not a single sliver of sunlight could be found in gloom above us. Eight o'clock came and went, as did nine, ten, and eleven. I was programming, Tara was reading.

As afternoon approached, and our departure became immenint, I pulled up a link our friend Friedel had posted on Twitter. Together, we procrastinated the start of our day a little further, ironically, by reading about the very thing we were dreading at the time: cycle touring.

As we read about Tom, and the beginning of his cycle tour in Mongolia, we were struck by these words, and how they resounded very clearly with us.

I felt pretty low as we left the city behind us. It was something to do with the wind and the monotony of the empty asphalt combined with the humbling vastness of the landscape. I remembered just what a slog bike travel could sometimes be. I was unfit. A few hours in and I was already bored of grinding the pedals and feeling like I was going nowhere.

Then I stopped and gave myself a kick up the backside to remind myself that there were always times like this, and that they always balanced out in the long term with the unpredictable joys of independent, unplanned bicycle travel. Moan over, get going.

But something had definitely changed. My enthusiasm for bike expeditions had always been matched by my tenacity when undertaking them. But now I was beginning to realise something, with a certain feeling of gladness: There is life beyond bike trips. I don’t have to spend my time off the bike wishing I was still on it. This realisation came with happiness; it meant that I was getting ready to move on, and to concentrate on things in my life which had become more important – and to take these responsibilities with the experience of the world I’d been so lucky to have.

Tom

Tara:

Then, it dawned on us. We didn't want to be here. In our tent. In the rain. On the road. We felt… thin. Sort of stretched, like… butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo would say. This morning, we didn't want to be living our particular nomadic life. Reading Tom's words prompted us to come out and say it to one another. We'd been sharing the distinct, unspoken sensation that it is high time for our adventure to begin a new chapter.

We've had inklings of this lately. For example, after just a single evening, we were "done" with the fairy-tale town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. In fact, our initial excitement about the village was reduced to practically nothing just a few hours after arriving. At the time, we chalked it up to the relentless rain. The next morning, also filled with rain, we still had very little desire to explore. We just wanted to stay inside, safe and dry.

Sadly, it is becoming very apparent that the longer we travel, the higher our standards become for what we find interesting. By now, we've seen at least one hundred churches and cathedrals. We've passed through countless historic villages. We've taken in enough Medieval architecture to last us a lifetime. The former allure of a beautifully-preserved walled city is now relegated to mild interest.

As we sat and thought about it, we realized that our increasingly late departures were likely a sign of our road fatigue as well. Recently, it seems that each day we get moving later than the last. At first it was 10:30, and then it was 11:00, and then it began pushing up towards noon, sometimes even extending to 2:00 in the afternoon. Leaving so late made us feel rushed. Feeling rushed made us not want to be on the road. Stopping early to get off the road made us feel like we hadn't gotten anywhere. Not a healthy cycle.

Tyler:

We finally did pack up and leave our mossy campsite, cheered only by the fact that we would see our friends again today. As we rode towards Nürnberg, in the rain, into the wind, I vented to Tara about how I was feeling.

Clovers

The prevailing sensation at the time was drowning. Our life on the road, and the small mountain of responsibilities we created to go with it, were uncharacteristically overwhelming to me. Those things which normally fill my life with intense purpose, had instead became a heavy burden.

It all felt absurd. I didn't want to pedal a single kilometer. I didn't want to program for my clients. The idea of making money only to further this "misery" seemed insane. My excitement about our endeavour had momentarily vanished.

Hanging above it all was the knowledge that I'd have to write about it. Feeling like a kid with a very long book report ahead of me, I didn't want to stare at a blank screen with that sinking feeling in my stomach ever again. I was inconsolable. The fleeting thoughts I've had about my entries lately began bubbling up. Things like, "UGH I hate this, I hate this, this is the most inane, banal thing I've ever written." or, "it was another goddamn crap day of cold and rain but we tried to stay positve and not hate it."

Tara listened while I complained, and reassured me that we do enough. I do enough. Maybe what I'm feeling is okay.

Tara:

I was actually feeling fine this afternoon, but I get my own share of the blues, as this nomadic life has never come easy to me. When Tyler was done venting, I turned the conversation towards talking about what we do want. We talked about the things that got us excited to get up and go. What was fulfilling to us. What made us happy. Some things were little, while others more abstract. As we talked, we planned the rest of our trip, and started to see that this little rainy jaunt in Germany wasn't moving us any closer to our goals.

Us:

So here is what we want:

  • Get to Berlin faster than our legs can pedal us. Germany is great, and we've made friends we'll keep forever, but our enthusiasm for rainy wheat fields and winding dirt roads (…and more rainy wheat fields and more winding dirt roads…) is waning. We'll take a train, or see if Felix and Nadine want to drive us in their camper.

  • See Nadine and Felix again—they will come visit us in Berlin while we're buying a car.

  • Learn to make really good coffee—buy little coffee maker.

  • Clean, dry clothes (heh, someday)

  • Buy a car. For real. Take the bikes apart, shove 'em in the back, and drive east.

  • Set out on our ultimate road trip across Russia. Meet people, take pictures, listen to music, and deal with the challenges that are sure to come.

  • See the faces and landscape change as we cross from Europe into Asia.

  • Cycle through Mongolia, or do a loop of the country.

  • Back in Ulaan Bator, get visas for China. Take a train through it to Vietnam.

  • Cycling as a lifestyle resumes in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, (with a long visit at Tara's uncle's house) and Malaysia.

  • Reach Kuala Lumpur

  • Take a two-week vacation on Bali (dirt cheap, hopefully) without bikes, and without journals.

Outside the scope of our trip, looking ahead:

  • Come home, see family and friends.

  • Participate in home-schooling Tyler's siblings.

  • Finish writing our books and publish them in some fashion.

  • Cycle around the US to find a place that feels like "home".

  • Buy land there.

  • Sell our house.

  • Plan our cob house building project, and with it, a new version of Going Slowly. We're going to keep a similarly detailed account of how we build our green/sustainable life.

  • Grow things, can jams and jellies, keep bees, make cheese, bake bread, brew beer, keep chickens and goats.

  • With our home base created, start saving again.

  • Plan for next adventure, whatever it may be.

Tara:

Our cathartic planning came to a halt as we entered Nürnberg. We had just talked about wanting to be off the bikes, and here we were, still cycling, past ugly suburbs, fast food restaurants, and strip malls. "Why are we even here?!" I thought to myself. "We don't need to be in Germany to see ugly urban sprawl, we might as well be at home!"

When we arrived in the city only to find the streets blocked off (making navigation a massive pain) for a "Rock in Park" festival featuring Rammstein and Rage Against the Machine… we were inwardly (and somewhat outwardly) raging.

There were excited festival-goers everywhere, but we failed to see the appeal of a loud, crowded show that would most likely be in a mud pit. And all the road blocks were doing no favors to our moods. We biked around and around and around, trying to find a way to our campsite (where we had planned to meet Nadine and Felix) that wasn't blocked off.

We kept being denied access by security guards, and it took awhile to convince them that SERIOUSLY, we had NO desire to see the show, we weren't trying to sneak in! We just wanted to see our friends, and to be home for the night.

Tyler:

Finally, we found a way through, and finished our ride to the campsite. It was full of people already, music blaring. We rolled into reception, and they asked us if we had reservations. We said no, and they sent us packing.

!!!! So now what? Felix and Nadine were coming to meet us. And we were in the middle of a city, the very last place we want to be when the day ends. We needed to be in the countryside, finding a nice free-camp, but we looked on the map and there was civilization for kilometers and kilometers all around us. Clouds rolled in again, dousing us with sprinkles. Damn this godforsaken rain. We rode off, to nowhere in particular, on the verge of a total meltdown.

The thought of meeting our friends was both wonderful, and overwhelming because of the logistics it would now involve. It was one thing to meet at a campsite, but it was another thing entirely to find a place to free-camp that would work for our tent and their VW bus.

When we passed a city park, which could do in a pinch as a terrible free-camp for us, we called our friends to discuss the situation. I wanted to tell them to turn back if they'd left already, or not to come if they hadn't.

It was 6:30, and they hadn't left Munich yet, but were still excited about coming. Don't worry about us, they said, just find a place for you and we'll meet you there. But how? We normally find remote places to camp in, but we were smack in the middle of the city. And because of the festival, the campsite was full, the youth hostel was full, and we were already over budget and didn't want to stay in a hotel. It was late, and we didn't want to ride any more. How would they ever find us to meet? How could we possibly spend time together?

Tara:

Would I even be awake by the time they arrived in two or more hours? While I talked to Nadine, trying to figure out a plan, Tyler was practically catatonic, overwhelmed and pacing through the wooded city park. This bit of touring-life logistics was the straw that broke the camel's back.

As a last ditch hope, I asked Nadine to look up another campsite. She found one about 15 kilometers away. Though the last thing I wanted to do was cycle further, if they had room for all of us, I knew it would be worth it to see them again.

A few minutes of pacing later, Nadine called back and told us she'd reserved us all spaces next to each other. It was going to work out! She also told us not to cook, for they were bringing tons and tons of food. Cheered, and excited to see our friends, we hopped on our bicycles.

We rode in the rain, headlights blinding us, exactly back the way we'd come. Every kilometer of the fifteen was filled with the same strip malls we'd passed on the way in. The only difference was that now we were on the other side of the road going in the opposite direction. We gloomily recognized every bend in the road, every garish sign, every McDonald's, every sex shop. Trying to put out of my mind how we would cycle thirty kilometers for no reason, we pedaled onwards.

Finally we arrived at the campsite we'd passed hours earlier. Relieved, we set up in the camper-van area, garnering strange looks from those in their giant motor homes as we put together our small tent. Then, we collapsed into bed, feeling strung out and wrung out, tired from a life that should be "simple" but lately, has been anything but. Every time I heard a car pass, I unzipped the rain fly and poked my head out into the rain, hoping I would see our friends driving up.

At last, they arrived in their bright green van, after having battled their own problems, including zero-visibility rain storms and traffic jams. But they were here, and now that was all that mattered. We hugged, we laughed, we talked, and suddenly the horrible day was worth it.

Nadine & Felix Visit Us

In our shared pitch, Felix got to grilling, and Tyler cooked another pizza in our little oven. Nadine cut up vegetables to throw on the grill, and over a few beers, we got caught up on the week of our lives since leaving Munich.

Felix Barbecuing Tyler Making Pizza

Tomorrow we'll be able to stomach another day of rain, because our friends are here.


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14 comments

You've already met your objective #19: "We agree to one year of travel."

After 13 months, why are you still stuck in Germany?
Posted by pcmt on June 6th, 2010 at 1:11 PM
One year became two very early on in our trip:
http://journal.goingslowly.com/2009/05/logistics.html

We're not stuck in Germany, we backtracked here from Romania to buy a car for our trek across Russia (lest our two year trip become three!).
Posted by Tyler on June 6th, 2010 at 1:23 PM
Okay, I see that now, and about the car through Russia. Good luck. I've followed you on and off since you were in the UK. Your photos are top notch.
Posted by pcmt on June 6th, 2010 at 1:51 PM
Great entry guys, we had very similar feelings during parts of our trip - everything you've written sounds so familiar to me. Sounds like you both have great attitudes & a great plan of attack for the next phases of your trip which is all it takes!
Posted by seattlefarmette on June 6th, 2010 at 2:02 PM
Your honesty is one of the things I appreciate most about your journal. Best wishes for making difficult decisions. Something is bound to give soon--hope it's the gloomy weather!
Posted by Deborah Black on June 6th, 2010 at 10:36 PM
We all feel like this sometimes, I think, no matter what we're doing in life. It's great that you can recognize it so easily and make plans to change things so they work better for you. By all means - take a break! Do something different. By the time you get to the Gobi Desert, you'll probably be feeling much happier about the cycling. We usually found that even a few days off the bikes doing something different was enough to revive our enthusiasm. When are you going to be in Berlin? Maybe we can come meet you there for a weekend.
Posted by Friedel on June 6th, 2010 at 11:47 PM
seattlefarmette (is that you sarah? or is jamie posting now too?)--

We often joke about this entry from your journal:

It might make us simpletons, but Sarah and I have both realized we are the most impressed by huge things. The 150 foot Reclining Buddha in Bangkok was the cultural highlight for us. The diminutive Emerald Buddha bored us.

Deborah--
Thank you Debbie. It's never easy to admit things like this. As much as we love being on this adventure, it gets hard sometimes.

Friedel--
Too true. We were already feeling better by the time we finished publishing this. Our journal is really cathartic. We should be in Berlin starting on the 10th. We're still not sure what all it will take to buy a car, but shoot us an email and we'll see if we can work something out.
Posted by Tyler on June 7th, 2010 at 5:08 AM
The rain really doesn't help does it? I've been following your blog for a couple of months now. It's always well written, with great photos. I'm in agreement with the commenter who posted earlier - your honesty is refreshing. The idea of the trip was to do something that you really enjoyed, and that made you happy. If it's not working you are right to "bash it about" until it does work for you! I wish you good luck and I'll be lurking here. Incidentally, you are heading to one of my favourite parts of the world, SE Asia. I've travelled a fair bit in Thailand and Malaysia (I'm a keen scuba diver). I'm interested to see how you get on there. Again, good luck, and you are making the right decision to change things to your liking.
Posted by Tony on June 7th, 2010 at 7:21 AM
Hi Guys, yes it is me (Sarah) posting from SeattleFarmette...usually with Jamie watching over my shoulder and adding his two cents. :) We discuss your adventure amongst ourselves daily!

sarah
Posted by seattlefarmette on June 7th, 2010 at 9:23 AM
That Bali vacation sounds like an EXCELLENT IDEA. Like, really really excellent.
Posted by Julia on June 7th, 2010 at 10:48 AM
Tony - Thank you! After a few days off from cycling (and rain!), it was really fun to get off the train today and zip around sunny Berlin. It's nice to spice up the routine a bit. We are VERY excited about SE Asia. Maybe we'll take a scuba class while we're out there. Thanks for the kind words, and for 'de-lurking'!

Sarah - lol! We talk about Isaac quite a bit as well. Congrats on the crawling! :D

Julia - Thank you! That was my idea and we're both pretty excited about it. Two whole weeks... no journals... no biking... heaven! We'll still post photos though :-)
Posted by Tara on June 10th, 2010 at 1:52 PM
Tara and Tyler thank you for that post. I am leaving in less than 2 months and anticipate days like this and often wonder how I will handle it while on my own.

It occurred to me from reading your journals that you get the most fun out of the people you meet and not the sites you see. Your experiences with families or friends seem to be the most fulfilling part of your travels and something I will focus on. You can see 100 cathedrals and they slowly all look the same but all people are different and the experiences you have with friends you meet seem to trump everything.

Looks like you are ready for something new. I will be taking a month to hike the Camino de Santiago in Spain, to get off my bike and hope to find similar activities during my 2 years away.

Keep it up and looking forward to reading about your journey through Russia.
Posted by Fred Bouwman on June 10th, 2010 at 6:02 PM
Wow, what a post! I'm not surprised you're a bit over it - it's been a bloody long time, you guys! Sounds like the plan to drive for a little while is just what you need. I'm so bummed our plans didn't coincide. We would've loved to have driven you across Germany and saved you from the misery of the non-stop rain!

Mike and I find we go through stages with our trip too. Sometimes we just don't feel like travelling so we find somewhere to stay for a few weeks or months and just work on our respective projects. Sometimes Mike says he feels like this makes us "bad" travellers. I think it's wonderful that our lives are so full that if we're not travelling through Europe we have other things that we're just as excited about doing! Same goes for you guys - isn't it wonderful that there are all these things you have to look forward to!

Congratulations on yet another bravely honest post! I love how open and honest you are with yourselves, each other and your readers!
Posted by Katherine on June 21st, 2010 at 11:29 AM
Okay, I held off when you wrote the incredibly moving post about the concentration camp, and I didn't say anything about the gorgeous blue sky. BUT. This post is fantastic. Our little trip here in China (one year teaching) has had some really high ups and some really low lows. Your honesty and your writing perfectly express ideas/ thoughts that Emily and I have had. This post is fantastic. This blog has my kindle collecting dust (and I was reading Joshua Slocum!).
Posted by Jeremy on January 5th, 2011 at 4:45 PM
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