I’m settling into a groove now. And have started reaping the benefits of traveling by bike and doing it self-supported and free.
Free is the operative word. And I value my freedom and independence above almost everything else.
While I’ve ridden organized and supported bike trips across America, in Vietnam and through India, this is the first self-supported effort. And something tells me it will be hard to go back.
An organized bike trip means you have to be somewhere specific by the end of the day. You ride with the benefit of an organization at your back– someone carries your stuff and you have a place to sleep and something to eat and a nice map and marked route that is planned and someone to call if something goes wrong. They will look for you if you don’t show up at the end of the day. They will get you to a doctor if you are hurt. They are security.
With a group cycle tour you ride with a group of strangers who you meet over dinner when everyone is tired and anxious and ready to do this trip planned for months. You often have nothing in common with these people but a desire to bike the same route. Which can be good – good company and a nice pace line and people with you if there is trouble. Or bad – it’s hard to carve out personal time in a group, there is always at least one person who is difficult, and ultimately a group ride is only as strong as the collective abilities.
I was thinking about the differences today as I road through the beautiful Po river delta from Ferrara to Comacchio. From a city I’d never heard of to a village I’d only decided to visit yesterday.
I rode though flat wetlands lined with canals and birds and lovely villages. Roads lined with red poppies. Egrets and herons and seabirds and fishing nets. I thought about how great it was to be able to choose where you ride when you are actually in country and experiencing a place, rather than signing up in advance for a set itinerary.
The first days riding between Parma and Modena and Bologna had some lovely cycling, but mostly the bike was transportation between urban centers with few good small roads connecting them. But since riding north out of Bologna the cycling has become much more pleasurable with less traffic and easier navigation.
I was thankful to have limited my mileage for today an easy 45 miles so I had time to stop and detour and get into Comacchio in time to visit their city – a lovely fishing town with canals for streets. I thought about the organized trips where we were cranking out 80 or 100 miles a day … and blowing by the essence of the areas road through untouched with no impression.
Yes, I spend time figuring out routes and finding hotels and getting my own dinner. I make sure my bike is in good order because while I have decent basic mechanical skills, anything significant needing repair will cause a problem. I keep myself safe. And have to make all the decisions about everything. And I do miss convivial conversation with other riders and the companionship that comes with people setting out for the same daily goal.
But you sacrifice a lot for the safety-net of structure. On the bike and in life. And right now the rewards of refusing to plan and organize and schedule and instead do what feels right is working for me right now. Both here in Italy and back home.