Gerry, 58 years, from the Netherlands has been cycling since her 18th and covered about 35,000 kilometer worldwide.
We know each other from the moment we learned to replace spokes and change oil in the Rohloff gear hub. That was in Amsterdam, where we both took a course in bicycle repair. Late in the evening we took the same train back home. We kept contact and years later I invited myself over to be a guest at your Warm Showers address.
We both cycle a lot, and you started long before cycle touring became more popular. I noticed we have one common gear: slow.
I know you carry a necklace with a turtle, as a sign of slowness. Well, that says enough. My banner of the weblog is ‘Why Hurry’. So we have a common interest and I want to talk with you about going slow.
1) Slow does not conjure up hair-raising fantasies or wild adventure. Yet, we are subject to both while we are very slow-moving.
Slow is for oldies, right? Slow is boring! Slow is not good. We know about slow-cooking and that’s cool, I guess, if you’ve got the time. But that’s the point: we have time. Actually… time is not an issue. Time is nonexistent if you have changed your mindset because it is not the distance but the experience. And this doesn’t depend on minutes and hours. In a month you either cycle 30 days of 80 kilometer and reach the point you had set out or you just start and enjoy. It’s a different approach. My approach is to enjoy fully, slow and into detail and whether I cycle 10 kilometer or 70, the experience is brimming to the rim with impressions, views, thoughts and understandings. Slowness gives more satisfaction because you see more. You soak up more. You start to understand life better by becoming slow. Can I state that?
Gerry: Understanding life better when you become slow, you say? Yes I feel this way too. I can better observe my own feelings and the details that surround me. I can think more deeply. I can soak more into a country. I love it to meet people and have time for talks while I am on my way and learn about a country. A saying I have is: ‘I stop and talk more than I cycle’. I also love discovering nice spots to stay, whether for a picnic or an overnight stay, and soak up these places and moments consciously. Being on a bicycle is an excellent way for me to experience this all and brings me closer to where I am.
Cycling also has the influence to slow me down. For example, climbing a steep mountain forces me to go way slower. While climbing I see tiny flowers along the roadside just 1 meter away from me. I look out for these little details when I am in a climb. I stop a lot when I go up, I want to enjoy my surroundings and the scenery. But I do the same when I go down, I stop. I don’t want to ‘fight’ a mountain, instead I want to ‘become friends’ with a mountain. Trying to cycle it in a rhythm that fits me and… the mountain. I cycle up in a walking speed.
And yes, as you said, slow is for oldies. A positive achievement coming by the years.
2) Why is it you stop at a camp spot while you just left the previous camp?
I have come to conclusion that to truly enjoy the environment it is best done by being there, and not just cycling through. My eyes are on the lookout for scenic spots and it might happen that caused by tiredness, altitude or an exceptional splendid environment I stop soon after I broke up previous camp. I once stopped after 9 kilometer because I couldn’t resist a mud-brick abandoned house (which wasn’t abandoned I found out when I settled well in). To soak in an atmosphere is realizing where I am.
Gerry: This happened to me a couple of times. Not caused by tiredness but because of natural beauty, so appealing that I wanted to stay, shortly after having started. Just being there, admiring and listening at a riverside or at the sea. I can just sit down and start reading.
In the morning I always have a goal where I want to go. While I set a destination, I don’t necessarily have to reach it. Of course I need to have the basics like water and food, so I always carry enough. I want to be sure, and to be able to stop at any sudden nice spot for stealth camping. There is one goal that I have to reach: my return-flight back home, and back to work. But I make my planning’s in such a way that I don’t need to hurry and that I can have time ‘to be’ somewhere.
I was in Greece last autumn, for 5 weeks. I was in doubt whether I would cycle a part of Albania too, but I skipped it for exactly this reason. I didn’t want to rush to Athens. And I didn’t regret this decision for a moment as I loved the speed I use to go by. And at the end it still was 1000 kilometers that I had cycled.
3) What is more important to you, to reach your destination or to enjoy the moment? Or is reaching the destination enjoying the moment?
I sometimes imagine it is my last day, that I die that evening. This places everything into perspective at once. I think we both have no destination to reach, as for me, the ride itself, the being alive and healthy, experiencing where I am, is my goal. Of course, I want to cycle and explore, as I am curious. And sure, I want to get somewhere but I don’t have a set up destination. How could I? Maybe the weather turns bad or more likely, by the time I have reached somewhere the season has already changed twice. Traveling is going with the flow, the people you meet, the flats you have, the camp spots you stumble upon, the changes which comes your way. In fact, I can change my destination a 100% or I have no idea where I am going after tomorrow. It’s like being a meandering river, it knows where it goes but does so with natural movements.
Gerry: I set a goal and I go into that direction. Last year the destination was Ushuaia, the most southern point of South America. But I didn’t reach it. I could have reached it, but I was in such a nice place, on such an idyllic spot, with such a pleasant person that I stayed there for 3 weeks instead.
I could have gone further south after this visit but I just felt like making a turn back up to the north. Peninsula Antonio Varas (near Puerto Natales), Chile, felt like the turning point to go home again and I cycled back to Santiago. I have such a wonderful memories about this trip and the fact that I didn’t reach Ushuaia is a good reason to go back someday. Returning to the country where I had these wonderful experiences.
I had the same very strong feeling, about not wanting to reach a destination, when I was cycling towards Santiago the Compostella and Fisterra, in Spain. Towards the end I started to slow down more and more and made detours at the end, not wanting to reach the final destination. I was enjoying the route so much, in all its aspects, like nature and meeting people. Irreversible, I finally arrived and from there I cycled back home.
My difference with you, Cindy, is that I always have had a set time and place to return home. So meandering has been into the limits of these periods of leave. But I would love to skip these limits and go without any of them. That would really be great. I just have to leave some ‘securities’.
4) Can you explain why you carry a turtle as necklace. What does it stand for?
As mentioned above, I took a photo of a roadside notice in the Himalaya to warn drivers to drive careful, ‘Why Hurry’. I cycled for 3 weeks in the Himalaya with a friend and he seemed to be in a hurry, according me. I think cycling is about an equal balance of camping, being somewhere in a town and cycling. Just like living hopefully is an equal balance; not only working. When I count the days, they are often divided by 50% cycling and 50% rest. So, when I cycled in the demanding Himalaya’s, I wondered why my friend kept on going until darkness or wouldn’t want to rest in a nice town? It was like he was chased by an invisible snow monster. In reality, he just wanted to reach the destination in the 4 weeks he had. But is the destination not the ride itself? Isn’t cycling about being somewhere instead getting somewhere?
Gerry: Why I carry a turtle? It’s a slow animal and it reminds me of the symbolic story ‘the turtle and the hare’. The turtle wins a ‘competition’ at the end by being smart. The turtle reminds me to go slow. Sometimes I need a reminder to go slow when I have set a goal for the day. It reminds me that I might not have to reach that goal on that specific day. That I don’t have to leave a beautiful spot that same day, that I can stay. The more trips I make the less I need this turtle to remind me. But I’m going to keep the symbol I love.
The turtle-symbol came to me by accident. I didn’t buy it. I found it in a little foldable backpack that a friend gave to me. She didn’t know it was in there. I discovered it just before a trip to Asia and immediately thought it had to be my symbol. My friend thought the same about this discovery, when I told her about it. While traveling I lost the turtle. About the same time another friend, that had found out that I had lost the turtle, was given a left-over silver turtle. She immediately knew that it had to be my turtle and she gave it to me when I came back home. Beautiful coincidences!
Cycling, for me, is not a competition. It’s a great way of transport and a way ‘to be’ somewhere while moving. The ‘Why Hurry’ motto would fit me too. I always like to stop cycling early in the afternoon to enjoy and discover my surroundings by day-time.
But, of course, there can be a reason, a circumstance, to go on. That cycling just becomes covering the distance. My last part to Santiago de Chile was like that, following the highway. However though, I tried to stop around 16.00 and have some pleasant relaxation at the place where I would sleep afterwards.
5) Slow is not a desired characteristic. Especially in the West we need to be fast. There is no other way anymore since production is extremely high. Not everywhere though, we know about the patience and ‘slowlitude’ of the Buddhists. They are the practitioners of mindfulness, just as our society was 100 years ago. Magazines and books are full with descriptions on how to live more aware. Were you living slow before it became a hype? Or do these books only show up when you have become slow (in other words, not lazy but aware)?
Seeing ants work around your campfire, noticing how much bigger their load is then they’re themselves. Studying how the earth is made up layer by layer, observing the stones and slivers. Watching the needles of a cactus into detail, smiling at the hairy composition surrounding the prickles. I have noticed that when your mind is focused on something very detailed you tend to float away from nonentities. Being slow probably lead you to focusing onto details quicker or sooner. I met with a motorcyclist in Paraguay just before I had a long stretch of ‘nothing’ in front of me. He told me there was really nothing. Nothing to get or buy. But what happened was that I stayed for a week at a military camp where I ate like a pig and after that I passed a few villages where I could buy all I needed. The words of the motorcyclist were totally wrong for me, and I wondered how he could have missed out on something so vital as a village with all necessities?
Gerry: No I didn’t learn ‘slowlitude’ from the books, magazines or the Buddhists. I just never liked it to be fast because I want to discover more in detail, taking time for what I do. I am searching for balance in cycling and rest, work and rest.
Sometimes I come upon popular magazines and books. Reading these articles I always get the feeling that I’m on the ‘right’ path and I feel it as an encouragement to go on like this. Sometimes I carefully show people what slow brings me, especially when I see family or friends struggling in this fast society.
But everyone makes its own choices in their way of life, and so in their way of cycling and travels too. I also see that many people want to be ‘fast’ and speed-up. Just as there are cyclists who like the competition and the speed and feel good about it.
Nevertheless, I have been living fast too, for a long while. I was working in tourism as a tour leader and showing people around in Western Europe. But within this fast work I always wanted to be ‘slow’ and give the people traveling with me, time to absorb what they were visiting. Planning moments of rest, within a trip’s program. I was different from other tour leaders who were much more in a rush.
6) Do you think traveling makes slow, particularly traveling by bicycle? Is stepping out of high-speed society, even for a shorter while, making one automatically slower, or is it part of our character?
I remember when I started traveling I did so in high-speed. I wanted to see as much as possible. When I hit India I thought I knew the country after one visit.
Traveling makes you want to see more of the world, more of the countries you have been to. So I started to revisit. After 3 visits to India I realized I would never hit the bottom of its dazzling depths!
When I started cycling I again did so in a quick manner, covering a lot of distance and making camping a necessity of sleep only.
Now I have reached a level where distance is merely a number. Cycling has become a means of being in an environment I could not be in any other way. I often wish for living in the surrounding I am in, or being a shepherd with its herd.
I have reached a stage where the bicycle is often too fast, or not the appropriate method of travel anymore.
Gerry: In my case traveling by bicycle made me more conscious about the pleasures of slowing down, literally and mentally. I, for myself, might call it ‘wellness on wheels’. It feels like being in the world. I regularly get an intense emotional good feeling ‘the world is mine’, being a part of the world, feeling of having ‘roots’ in the earth.
Being on the move, backpacking, traveling in airplanes, buses and trains’, doesn’t feel like ‘wellness’. The feeling only comes when I leave for a trekking, long walks and cycling.
I think that my cycling-trips have influenced me. In daily life cycling has made me more aware in the sense of ‘taking time’, and not to rush. But, it was already a ‘path’ that I had taken and a path on which I want to go on.
I’m a social worker and I work with people who have mental problems and physical handicaps. Working directly with these people I can’t hurry, I have to be patient, slow down, being tentative on details. These are qualities I need in my work and qualities that have improved while working.
I recognize your feeling of wanting to stay somewhere for a longer time, even living there. I stayed for about 3 weeks, in the place mentioned above, in Patagonia. Staying there gave me exactly this feeling. But I’m almost sure I would start to miss my ‘home’, friends and family. Despite all the rush and hurry of our society, something I won’t miss. I feel it’s my place to live and where I return back to and where I have to find my preferable way of living.
7) Do you think slowness has to do with being alone? For how can one be truly self-focused when you have to take another cyclist into account?
I found it often impossible to keep my own pace when I was cycling with others. I either wanted to be in front or I didn’t want to let the other pass, or I wanted to keep sight of the other person. It seemed to be a constant state of control. Because when the other person is out of sight you wonder whether you will find him again. Little breaks to make photo’s or to view the nature you are in, getting of your bicycle to pee or to buy something or to talk to someone all adds up to the distance between the two of you. Riding alongside each other and chatting is missing out on silence and details. Cycling with someone changes everything. Even something vital as lunch has to be discussed, as when and where to take it. Or worse, the start of the day is either too late or too early. I think slowness has to do with being on your own, no one who pushes you, no one who motivates you either. I think it only works when you find a seamlessly matching other, who awaits you in camp at the end of the day, or whom you meet up with after being lost for days. What is your experience?
Gerry: Most of the time I have been cycling alone. I like to cycle in my own rhythm and be able to stop whenever I want and change the goal for the day.
It’s not that I’m not a social being. I love to meet other cyclists and talk about all kind of subjects. But rather after a day of cycling, or during a pause, not while cycling.
Last year I met a couple whom I kept seeing at the end of each day for quite some time. They were always far in front of me, faster than me, and I liked it this way. Each time we met it was a nice coincidence and we even celebrated Christmas together.
Sometimes I cycle close together with others for a short moment but I always, almost immediately, find out that I’m not cycling in my own pace and that I miss the focus on the surroundings where I am. I see less and absorb to a lesser extent. Instead I get focused on the others and the chats we have. But for a shot while it can be good, then it’s a choice I have made and I’m okay with it.
A seamless match with someone else, you say, Cindy? I don’t think this person exists. When someone expects you at a certain place than already you are less free and you might have passed a spot where you would have liked to stay.
Cycling with someone else needs discussion about all kind of things. This isn’t all negative, because it can also give good ideas and other perspectives. It can make traveling easier too and less lonely. But in general I’m able to be alone and I can appreciate it.
It can be a choice to cycle together with people. But up to now these trips were always the very short trips at home with friends. For the long-distance trips, up to now, I have made the choice to cycle alone. But who knows, it might happen that I make another choice and cycle with someone and compromise. But then the ideas of cycling must not differ too much.
This is the link where you can find out about most of the cycling trips Gerry made.