Where's Sam the Man

48 countries, 12 months, one man, half a brain

Name: Samuel Hathaway
Location: Roaming..., Germany

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mark and I

For some reason, people say that because I have never done bike touring before, therefore I am an amateur. They say it's common sense. I call it quick to judge. Well, those folks got lucky, I guess, because when I started my biking I realized that I lacked some information that would make me completely proficient at the sport. To say the least.

Enter my uncle Mark, a hardened traveler who has spent time in South America, Europe, Asia, and even the United States. He is also a butt-hardened cyclist, who has logged miles touring around Europe, so he was a natural choice for a travel mentor. I'm not sure if I passed the final test or not, but here are the highlights from the notes he gave me:

1. No need to rush. Spend time each morning to feed your addiction; you'll start the day more relaxed.

The evening of our arrival at a hostel, Mark would prowl the grounds in the dark for a suitable "mate spot." I never dared ask him exactly what the criteria were (what do you say to a guy who slinks in dark corners?), but when morning came he would lead me to a couple of chairs in the lovliest spot that the area had to offer. There, he would sip at his yerba mate, I would sip my tea, and, as we chatted, any tension left over from the previous day's ride would melt away.

2. Just bike. Don't ask the map guy how far it is to the hostel unless you want to feel really good at the moment.

Okay, so the maps are a little hard to read. Is that my fault? Seriously, the distance looked pretty short every day. What's a few dozen kilometers in either direction? I mean, are we men or are we men? And didn't you feel relief every time I told you that low number, Mark? I was just prolonging your mate-induced relaxation and helping you to have a more enjoyable ride.

3. The metric translation of "mileage" is "kilometrage." We think.

4. Let out a 10 km whoop, Paraguaian style.

This is where my amateur status really showed, and where a veteran was needed. When you've biked 100 km, you have 25 km to go, and the map guy originally said you'd only have to bike 80 km, you need a little pick me up. Sadly, they don't teach whooping at the Hathaway Institute for Higher Learning (in fact, it is generally frowned upon) or at Struther's Camp Corruption (are you reading this, Scott? I'm thinking some course reorganization), but thankfully Mark spent four years in Paraguay in the Peace Corps. And those guys can whoop a whoop that will push you through that next 10 km.

5. Talk to the cows.

Everybody likes to toy with their prey...before they tip them over, heh heh heh...

6. Wasa.

Wasa bread is a lesson in itself. Actually, it's a belief system in itself. If you've never had Wasa, then I don't know that I can explain it to you. Imagine all of your favorite memories (the day you got a puppy, your 16th birthday, the day you saw a fairy) and the greatest smells (soft rain, fresh bread, pine forests) and the greatest sounds (the first robin of spring, the largo from Vivladi's "Winter," the cry of a newborn baby) and the greatest touch sensations (soft...stuff) and the greatest tastes (one word: manna), role them all into a small rye crisp, and you have Wasa. And it comes in different flavors! Sport Wasa, breakfast Wasa, fiber Wasa... There is a Wasa for every occasion and emotion. Actually, Wasa is an emotion. You don't just eat Wasa. You feel Wasa. And it fills up your stomach when the nearest grocery store is 20 km away and all the hostel has left in its kitchen cuboards is Wasa bread.

7. Stop and check out stuff.

Never having done bike touring before, I started out, naturally, a little tense. If I made it to the hostel, I hugged my bed like a sailor who just stepped onto land after months at sea. Miserable months at sea in a cramped little fishing boat that leaked and smelled like tar and fish and the cook's BO, when the weather was terrible and everbody was sea-sick. And you had scruvy. Bad. That's how I hugged the bed. So, I was very focused each day, intent on getting to destination with as few stops as possible. I wanted no chance of getting lost in the middle of the night with no place to sleep (Stockholm comes to mind...). Mark taught me to relax. He showed me how to stop at the charming roadside cafe, run out of a old woman's kitchen. He showed me how to explore the town in the evening and eat supper by ridiculous statues. He showed me how to make bike touring enjoyable.

In sum, it was a fabulous week of companionship with my uncle. The weather was gorgeous, the hostels were charming, and, most importantly, I was reintroduced to the pleasures of bike touring in Europe.


Blogger Svante said...

Hello from Svante and Karin - we met at the the Gammel-Gränome (pronounce that if you can!) Hostel, your first night out of Stockholm.

Glad to hear all is well, and that you're enjoying the trip so far. Best of luck and safe cycling!

Svante & Karin

August 12, 2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Hey, Sam. I spent 3 hours in the car with your uncle Mark. He reported that you were doing well and that, for the most part, you had packed the right equipment for your trip. However, he said he couldn't convince you to give up your shoe polish even though it was taking up a lot of space in your pack! I figure you must be planning a few fancy nights on the town in the very near future! Glad all is going well.

August 19, 2007 6:37 PM  

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