The ride from the campsite at Sunset Bay was a long, challenging affair. Our route through Charleston to Sunset Bay had taken us from the 101 towards the coastline, and in order to return to it, we were obliged to hit the Severn Devils Rd towards Bandon, climbing a steep, harsh hill and then weaving our way along the windy and endlessly rolling backroads from the bay. The hills themselves weren’t the worst we’ve come across by any means; but they were relentless, one after the other, stretching for over 15miles. Worst of all, as I pushed myself to climb, panting and breathing heavily through the effort, I had the severe misfortunate to gulp in huge mouthfuls of the sea air- which, far from being the fresh, lightly salted air of the beach, was heavy with the taste and smell of slowly decaying fish. It was nauseating; absolutely foul. Not an enjoyable ride in the slightest- and the lack of any sort of view (continuous stretches of trees or hedgerow and not a great deal more) there wasn’t even any means for distracting ourselves as we went. We didn’t see another cyclist on the road at all: and whilst the traffic was mild, it only served to add to the somewhat mundane feel to the ride as a whole.
We struck lucky, however, when we rolled into Old Bandon after finally finding our way back to the 101, aiming to seek out somewhere to eat our lunch, and found a purpose-built picnic shelter on the marina, filled with beautifully carved wooden seating and a large, polished wood table. Whilst we were sat in there enjoying our lunch, a group from a residential care home came in, obviously on a day trip out, and begun to congregate inside the shelter. Many complimented Theo and his mischievous, cheeky smile- it made me warm inside to hear them talking amongst themselves and commenting on how polite he was, how sweet, handsome and bubbly! Perhaps I’m not doing such a bad job on the parenting front after all A few enquired after our journey and exclaimed when they discovered how far we were traveling- and as the conversation amongst themselves turned to related topics, I overhead one of the carers ask a particularly frail lady, “Where is the favourite place you’ve visited?”
This lady gave a real twinkle of a laugh- like that of an old bell, almost, full of character and life, but slightly less melodic than it ought to be from age. I warmed to her instantly as her eyes lit up and she furrowed her brow in concentration, as if trying to recall.
“Oh, but I’ve been so many places!!” she exclaimed, “I’ve traveled the world! How can I choose just one?? I’ve loved nearly all the places I’ve visited, but all for very different reasons! Every place is different. Every place has something different to love! A different memory, a different companion, a different age! No, no…I can’t chose one, I just can’t!”
Her response to the question truly warmed my heart and made me smile- as did her twist, or perception as it were, upon what should contribute to a ‘good’ travel experience. I told myself there and then that if I could reach that age and respond in the same manner, I’ll know I’ve truly lived my life- not just through exploration of places, but through the creation of incredible memories with those I’ve traveled with, and the appreciation of different aspects as my tastes, ideas and perceptions change with age. Learning to appreciate the individuality of each place and the unique features each particular culture has to offer- finding something to love in almost every place you visit- that’s a true gift essential, I feel, to making the most of any travel experience. Is it something we can learn? Something that comes with time?
One things for sure: that elderly lady taught me something today. And now, more than ever, I am determined to expand my traveling experiences- until I can sit down in 40+ years time and honestly claim, “I’ve been too many places to chose one!”
In spite of our long lunch, we pulled short of our anticipated mileage again, tiredness claiming us outside of Denmark after 43miles, where we pulled into a KOA campsite for the night and spoilt ourselves with a long soak in the on-site hot tub- initially with a huge group of German motorbikers (!) and then with a lovely young Australian couple, who were 5 weeks into their round-the-world trip. We spent almost two hours just talking, sharing stories and experiences, comparing our respective lives in our own countries, taking tips and giving advice on prospective routes, places to visit and so forth. We mutually concluded that the ‘grass is always greener’- I was envious of the sheer spectrum of places they’re anticipating visiting during their 6month trip, covering not just the States and Canada, but most of Europe as well as a bit of Thailand/Asia. However, they argued that our slower way of traveling was much more effective: we get to see more without speeding past, get more of a ‘hands-on’ feel for the places we pass through, as well as challenging ourselves- physically and mentally!- by undertaking such a huge task. The guy added that having Theo with us also makes us very much unique and is obviously going to get a lot of people interested and talking to us- “whereas there are thousands and thousands of young twenty-somethings traveling these days; we’re nothing special, we’re not doing anything that millions haven’t already done before us!”
I have to point out that we’re not exactly unique in what we’re undertaking either; we were inspired to undertake our cycle tour when we stumbled across the blogs of other families who have gone before us and taken their kids traveling by bike: from our incredible hosts in Vancouver, Rebekka and Florian (who traveled with their toddler Chan for few years!!!!) to Linda, Phil and 2yr old Luca who are undertaking their round the world bike trip as we speak; Nancy, John and their twin boys– who despite being in their teens rather than toddlerdom were still a great source of inspiration for us!- or the Pedal Powered Family, Reuben, Heidi, Eden and Harper, who started out just a few weeks after us. There are many, many families who have gone before us on the cycle tour front: and I’ve discovered that in the scheme of family travel, what we’re doing is just a tiny drop in the travel ocean. I guess it’s like anything else in life, though… no matter what you do, someone, somewhere, will always do it that little bit bigger, that little bit better, will push the boundaries just a little bit further.
But yes, in a way, what we’re doing is unique, and most certainly special. We’re unique amongst our family and friends; and to date, we’ve been unique on the road, having not met or heard of any other families doing this route at the moment. Touring cycling families are still not commonplace; and certainly not those with younger children. The majority of people we come across have never encountered anything quite like it and are genuinely astounded and taken back when they realize that we’re actually traveling by bicycle. And we enjoy that tiny degree of ‘stardom’ and celebration of our journey as such; and with every person who ventures to chat to us about our trip, I comfort myself with the thought that we’re slowly but surely getting the message out there that yes, it IS okay to do this with your kids- that cycle touring IS an option. I get a sense of pride and achievement everytime an astounded passerby marvels at our bravery/stupidity (!!) at undertaking such a mammoth task, or praises our (well- Matt’s!!!) physical capacity to pull such a load for so may miles. Because it IS hard- and sometimes just the recognition of that fact is all we need to boost our esteem and give us a buzz, to keep us motivated and focused. Because it’s true- if it was easy, everyone would do it.
I went to sleep that night with my mind buzzing over all that we’d talked about. I ended up asking myself- if someone told me I could do all those countries I’ve been dreaming of- through Asia, Australia, New Zealand- but I had to do it by RV, or perhaps by bus, rather than cycle…would I prefer that over what we’re doing now? I struggled for quite some time to come up with a conclusive answer: the pulling towards more travel, more countries! Is so strong. But eventually I decided that no- I wouldn’t change what we’re doing right here, right now. Cycling adds an entirely different dimension to the travel experience. It’s testing us, it’s pushing us, it’s opening doors and turning the whole travel experience on its head. It’s a special way to travel: and I feel proud to be doing it.
I have the rest of my life to see the rest of the world; I only have one chance to cycle with my toddler!