Recently, I bicycled from Stockholm to northern Sweden. It was primarily a mental exercise. Since then, many people have asked me whether it is hard to bicycle for 100 kilometers each and every day for weeks, tacitly hinting at my age. The answer is no. Many people asked me whether it is frightening to sleep in a one-person tent out in the wild. No, not at all. Once I had learned the trick to get out of the tent in the middle of the night, it was easy peasy. Some people asked about the weather, about freezing at night, about bicycling in rain and sometimes even snow. It’s just a matter of being prepared with the right equipment. People did not ask so often about my dear friend, the wind. Wind, mainly from the front, very often from the side, seemingly seldom from behind. Most of the time I like my friends a lot.
People hardly asked me about how it is to be with oneself all day long, day in, day out. This latter question is the interesting one. First of all, all senses open up during long-distance bicycling. It is amazing to experience the world with much more intensity than usual. The colors become more intensive, the birds sing louder and even more interesting tunes. Flowing water gurgles. The olfactory sensors are busy with the broad variety of smells one can find out in the country. Flowers, herbs, horses, freshly cut wood, wood burning in stoves. The temperature sensors signal happiness to the brain. Even the pressure sensors residing on the bottom communicate that they meanwhile became friends with the Brooks B17.
During the leisure time of the after-work hours one might sit in the evening sun in front of the tent. Alternatively, one might also hide in the tent to avoid the joyful moskitos. The brain does not want to stop thinking, however. The brain might work a little bit on tour planning for the next day. Check out the weather forecast, maybe. But after this, it might want to embark on a random walk. It might re-assemble bits and pieces from memory and recreate what is usually called the past. How it was to get the first bicycle at the age of twelve. A shiny red Puch racing bike with ten gears. This was 1966 and the parents even allowed me to bicycle alone to my aunt in Upper Styria. The distance was an unbelievable 130 kilometers. All my brain can remember now are the terrifying Gratkorn tunnel and the overwhelming feelings of freedom. The tunnel is history. The feelings of freedom are as present as ever. I look over to my Kona Sutra and start smiling. The Sutra also has a racing handle bar, like my Puch had back then. What a nice coincidence, I think. The sun is shining and my brain starts humming “Sunny Afternoon”, a pop song by The Kinks, also from 1966. It hums “And I love to live so pleasantly, live this life of luxury, lazing on a sunny afternoon”. My brain remembers that shortly after getting my Puch in 1966 I started my “sinful” life. I got interested in life styles that my educators back then, the Capuchin monks from the Lorenzheim, considered as definitely evil. Quite in contrast to their radical hair style, I wanted to have my hair in a very different radical style. Quite in contrast to their proposal to live a celibate life, I was about to discover the pleasures of lust. My brain keeps humming “save me, save me, save me from this squeeze”. Needless to say that this disagreement with the monks’ expectations about my life style led to my expulsion from the Capuchin monastery. This was the first big change in my life’s journey towards becoming myself. It felt like being liberated from a cage. My brain is still humming “Now I’m sitting here, sipping at my ice cold beer, lazing on a sunny afternoon”. However, it was not the alcohol that got so much attention way back then in 1968. I started with school in Fürstenfeld, got my fingers bleeding when trying to learn the barrè chords of the song “Wild Thing” by The Troggs, and shortly afterwards got offered a job as a bass player in a band. We called ourselves The Promotion. I took the pleasure of no longer listening to pop music, but became a connoisseur of progressive music, like the one from The Cream. Meanwhile, still sitting in front of my tent, my brain has started humming “The ceiling is the sky, I feel free”.
Summer evenings in northern Sweden seem to last forever. A lot longer than blog posts like this one here should be. Those of you, dear readers, who are not yet challenged with attention deficit, might want to get a glimpse of what it’s like to feel free by clicking here.