Sometimes I get asked where I got the idea for the trip. Of course the idea is mine ;-) but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t inspired by some other stories. Recently I read two great travel books about cycling trips from Italy to the Netherlands and vice versa. The first, called ‘De Nieuwe Fiets’ (‘the new bike’) by namesake Dirk Jan Roeleven, is Roeleven’s story about his trip from Italy to Amsterdam. Years ago, on a bike-trip with friends, Roeleven had his bike repaired for free in the Italian town of Cuneo at the bike shop of the Cucchietti family. He vows to return someday to buy a bike and ride it back home. Of course he is met with a friendly kind of disbelief, but years later he keeps his word and travels to Italy to pick up a brand new Cucchietti. The book is a beautiful description of why we ride bikes, and all the sort of things that go through your mind when embarking on a long solo trip. Although Roeleven wants to climb a few passes and hills, his timing (early May) prevents this as he finds snow on his way or miserable weather in the Alsace. The second book is the beautiful ‘De filosofie van de heuvel’ by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer (text) and his girlfriend Gelya Bogatishcheva (photo’s), who, one day, decide to cycle to Rome and depart the next. No extensive planning, no bike preparations, just go. Pfeijffer, a Dutch poet and novelist, isn’t well prepared – overweight, chain-smoking, wine-loving and riding an old Batavus road bike (de oude Batavus) that he picked up at a second hand store for 95 euro’s. Obviously climbing hills on a bicycle is not his favourite pass-time (given the age of his bike he has no triple or compact chainring to help either) and the title of the book refers to all the different philosophical approaches he tries to make tackling a hill an easier task, all the while mocking those of us who cycle on ‘modern’ road bikes: “Their [bikes’] lack of weight results from a complete lack of character. And Gelya and I snort at stupid roadracers who cycle stupid laps”*. The book is filled with beautiful observations on traveling at slow speed, life, little villages in regions that have missed the boat called globalization, drinking wine, stopping to swim in the sea etc…Also, it contains the important lessons that your girlfriend is always right and that it’s not the destination that counts, but the trip – planning should be done moderately. By having planned the entire first two weeks of the route I have already sinned against rule no. 2, but an important reason for that is that Ana has decided she needs to know when I’m in Burgos to be able to join me for a few days and so rule no. 1 takes prevalence.
Both books inspire with the desire to travel but also reveal something important about riding a bicycle and cyclists – the idea to return to a shop in Italy to buy a new bike, or to cycle to Rome unprepared, are both terribly romantic. And that’s what cycling is, for a large part, about. Both the sport of cycling, as well as travels by bike, are the stuff of dreams and epic stories, only to be equaled, in my opinion, by traveling on foot.
These books are only available in Dutch and I heartily recommend them to everyone who reads the language. For those of you who don’t – there is one Dutch literary classic that has been translated into English, Tim Krabbé’s “The Rider”, or the beautiful race reports from the 1949 Giro d’Italia by Dino Buzzati – the times that one read about the race in the newspaper and that reporters could still ‘pimp’ a dull stage into a very eventful one for their audience. He finishes with an epilogue that sings the praise of the bicycle which, even in the future, where we will all be traveling without breaking a sweat, ‘the girls will cover with flowers’. Like I said, hopelessly romantic…
Two training rides this weekend - about 150 km together. The amount of high speed travel in the past weekends seems to have taken its toll.
*Translations from Dutch and errors therein are mine.