Back in…let’s call them the before times, my bike was my trusty steed on which I rode to many adventures. Little did I imagine 50 years later, that would still be true. The bicycle continues to be a thread that runs throughout my life, connecting me both to people and the world.
For me, in all its forms, yes, e-bikes too, the bike remains one of the very best ways to live a healthy life and to be a healthy human. It’s a great workout; a resilient and reusable technology, it’s social (group ride), it’s reclusive (solo ride), and it’s personal (riding with a friend). “Personal” may not always be the correct word, but while riding, one always ends up sharing stories along with the journey. I didn’t realize it at the time, but an “All of the Above” bike journey became the foundational experience of my adult life.
While a student at Cupertino High, among my friends was an exchange student from Norway. We’ll call him Hans. That’s not his real name. His real name is Hans Halvar. Well, a couple of years after high school and into college, a disturbing pattern had developed. I did great in classes that I liked and terrible in classes that I didn’t. Grades from courses about which I was ambivalent, you can guess. For the GPA, this situation was unfortunate, but more important was the realization I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do. My solution to this existential crisis was to take my bike to Norway, work on Hans’ family farm, and cycle around Europe. It may look like I was running away from my problems, but I wasn’t. I was riding away from them, which is much faster.
I arrived in Larvik, Norway, and Hans’ family took me in as part of theirs. Summer was spent waking up early every morning and doing one or several activities including cutting cabbage, picking potatoes and onions, splitting logs, or countless other jobs that always needed doing around the farm. It was work, but not labor.
Onion season in Larvik
Heading down the Rhone River Valley toward Avignon.
After three months, I headed out on my bike to Bodrum, Turkey. My sister was working in an archeological program at Bodrum castle. It sounded exciting, but mostly, it was the best excuse ever to hit the road. An unanticipated benefit of the trip was the profound and positive impact of the bike on the entire experience. As most riders will tell you, when you go someplace on your bike, you are THERE! You’re not looking through a window; you are in the picture. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the feeling: you are a participant in the environment, roadway, and community. This is as true in Cupertino as in Copenhagen or Constantinople (Istanbul now, but I like the alliteration).
Some of the profound impacts of the trip came simply from the experience of travel, yet so much more came from the quality of experiences on the bike. And on a bike, Europe was incomparable. There was always fresh bread, pastries, the local varieties of chocolate, cheeses, wine, or beer in whichever village you stopped. Every day I ate breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. And when I say pauper, I mean a pauper with good cheese, bread, and wine. All of this while riding through cities and towns designed around people, not cars. It was all terribly exotic.
Like life, the trip was full of wonderful, frustrating, remarkable, and ordinary moments. Getting a draft from a tractor pulling hay for 30km, weeklong headwinds, rain, seeing the Mediterranean for the first time after a long climb, watching an exquisite sunset on the Adriatic and noticing that boat you were to catch is fading on the horizon.
I made it to Bodrum eventually. Once there, time flew by. There was and is so much to see, Ephesus, Troy, Istanbul, to name a few. In addition to sightseeing, there was picking tangerines and olives, as well as working with my sister’s project that was reassembling broken Byzantine glass in Bodrum castle. No, I was not allowed near the glass, I worked on the dive boat which was much more suited to my interests. (BTW, working conditions in castles are still not excellent).
When it was time to go, I mounted my bike and headed back to Norway. It was a different trip on the return. Although it worked out for me, I don’t recommend biking over the Alps when it’s snowing, and not just because of the funny looks from people at the ski resorts.
You can imagine on such a journey that it would be impossible not to learn about people, places, relationships, yourself. Some lessons were more challenging than others; all were important.
One of the more enduring lessons was realizing how much everything is connected. As cliché as it is true. This truth was crystal clear on a bike then and still is.
Home in the US, back at school things were different. Or they looked different. All those difficult or boring uphill slogs (think classes) meant there was going to be a sweet descent on the other side. My schooling and career became a much more engaging and interesting ride.
These days, I’m older (definitely) and wiser (hopefully). I visit with my Norwegian family whenever I can, repair bikes for free whenever I can both at home and with Silicon Valley Bike Exchange, and look for opportunities to get on two wheels whenever possible.
Now, when I want to be with friends, make new ones, or be alone, I ride my bike. And I am once again better for it.