I admire adventure…from afar. I think I dislike the uncertainty of it. Like many, I consider myself risk-averse and if any risks are taken, they are highly calculated ones. For example, I recently walked up the UK’s highest Three Peaks which was an ideal trip for me: the trails were marked and the destinations were fixed. It was just a matter of getting myself to the trailhead and walking up the mountain, but it wasn’t adventurous enough for me. I really needed to challenge myself and do something significant before going back to the U.S. in late October, but didn’t know how.
I sent a few text messages and suddenly found myself on a plane to Croatia to ride on a tandem bicycle with a guy I met in graduate school. I’m partially kidding. Luke is definitely more than “a guy I met in graduate school.”
The details of our trip were just hazy enough for me to say “yes.” I had no idea where we were going to stay, what route we would take, and more importantly, how long we would cycle. All I knew at the time is that, somehow, we’ll leave northern Croatia. We should make it to Belgrade, Serbia in about 7 days time. Or Bosnia. Maybe Kosovo. Ok I’ll be absolutely honest, I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Not only that, I have only cycled long-distance less than a handful of times, never alone and always slower than planned. Oh well, I was in Croatia and met Luke in a square in Zagreb, so there was no turning back now. Time to go “all in.”
A normal day actually had a nice rhythm to it. 0730 — Wake up. 0745— Wee and disinfect in a wooded location. 0800 — Coffee and calisthenics with Luke. 0930 — Breakfast, roll up the camping things, and pack up the tandem. 1030 — Cycle. 1245 — Double espresso and lunch. 1415 — Cycle with occasional breaks. 1915 — Dinner, wash, and set up the tent. 2200 — Sleep. Our trip had a few memorable inner tube blowouts and a wheel may have gotten lost, but, again, it all worked out in the end. The cycling is all a bit of a blur, but I recall the tank-like tandem flying at 34 kmh (about 21mph) with the trailer in tow. I never said this to Luke but at some points on the ride, my nerve endings screamed “ohmygodwearegoingtoofast” and gripped the handle bars, bracing for impact at every downsloping hill. We were always alright in the end. No crashes, no melodrama, just me overthinking again.
One of my favorite parts of cycling in the back of the tandem wasn’t any particular sight or scene. For the first time in what felt like a long time, I never asked Luke where we were going to stay, what the route was, or how long we would cycle. Sometimes on long and straight stretches of road, I would bow my head and close my eyes as I pedaled hard. Backseaters have the luxury of cycling blind in this way. I will try to not be cliche and talk about feeling free or liking the wind in my hair or whatever, so please believe me when I say it was a surreal and rare feeling, dare I say something that was worth the quarantine upon my return to the UK.
Some friends and family asked if it was ever difficult being on the tandem and occasionally sleeping rough. Like any worthwhile pursuit in life, the trip did have challenging moments but these perceived challenges quickly dissolved with time and practice. So, yes, the trip was physically demanding at times, however, now that the Croatia-Serbia leg is over, I realize that this trip has impacted in a way I did not expect. Imagine an amusement park. Also imagine a person who is scared of heights, but willing to get on a rollercoaster nonetheless. After the twists, turns, and inversions, the ride finally grinds to a halt, and, windswept and giddy, that very same person realized what fun it was to ride along, and now has this newfound eagerness to try other, perhaps more daring rides. That was the impact riding in the tandem had on me. It dawned on me that fear was the only reason why I never cycled on my own, why I hardly ventured off the trail, and why I clung to what was certain and comfortable. There are only a few reasons that can truly prevent a person from living an enriching life. Fear is not one of those reasons. Fear and doubt are often the products of our own minds, and it took a cycle across Croatia for me to realize that.
Luke isn’t paying me anything for saying this but I think, truly, if you are able-bodied, open to new experiences, and can make the time, get on the back of the tandem. There are moments when I ask myself if I actually cycled from Croatia to Serbia. Of course I did. And now that I’ve had a true taste of adventure, I am eager to see what twists and turns await for me in the U.S. and beyond.