Can’t slow down

I literally can’t seem to slow down. I had a short day on Thursday and yet it was still 49 miles. The reason, a broken spoke so I stopped early to fix it. Even some of the unpaved farm tracks and fire roads that have been part of my route in Sweden haven’t diminished my appetite for mileage despite sapping my energy and probably causing that broken spoke. I know that cycle touring should be about enjoying yourself, I know it’s not a race but a part of me likes pushing myself. 62.5 miles (100km) in 6 hours of riding is now the ‘normal’ target day.
image
A long daily target also works well at the moment too because Sweden is big! Fairly populated in the south where I am but I’ve covered 255 miles in 4 days and yet I think I’m still 150 to 160 miles away from Stockholm! Putting all this into perspective in the 16 days I’ve been on the road of this trip I’ve covered almost half the distance of my entire 7 weeks in France and Spain.
image
However I won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Sweden is expensive and I haven’t managed to find somewhere to stay in Stockholm through warmshowers. So my current plan is to get the overnight ferry to Turku and then press on to Helsinki. I hadn’t appreciated the ferry is a 12 hour crossing and only leaves early in the morning or late at night but it’s almost a blessing in disguise. I had considered heading up the east coast of Sweden to Umea but another 6 nights solo in the tent on top of the 6 to Stockholm doesn’t appeal. I haven’t had a proper conversation in 4 days and probably won’t for another 4 at least. It’s sending me slightly mad.
image
Now don’t get me wrong I’m usually in favour of a bit of solitude. However I think my route across Sweden might be a bit crap. It seems to follow the motorway so the wild campsites at night as well as being visually nothing to shout about so far, also have a soundtrack of traffic noise. Add to that the mosquitoes which force me inside the tent once eating is dispensed with and it’s a bit uninspiring. I have seen a few interesting daytime sights but to be perfectly honest northern Europe all starts to look the same after a while!
image
So I’ll keep pressing on and hope my body holds up. From leaving Malmö last Tuesday I’ll be averaging 62.5 miles per day for 8 days with a slightly shorter day into Stockholm on Monday to break it up. This will be the longest distance and time I’ve ridden on a tour without a day off. I hope there is a shower on the ferry or it’ll be a new record for not showering too!

Suicide City

Copenhagen didn’t really stand much of a chance. Cycling there on Saturday morning I was already in a ‘funk’ and didn’t know why. The weather was grey with rain inevitable. Upon entering the city I didn’t see much to endear it to me. There are a lot of bikes and bike lanes but actually the infrastructure is pretty confusing. There’s pretty much no signage and turning left at a large crossroads from one bike lane to another takes some practice so you don’t end up blocking a bike lane or a road.

Although I had sent out a lot of messages I’d failed to find anywhere to stay in the city. A quick look at hostels showed they were either fully booked or way out of my price range. It looked like my fall back option to cycle back out of town to somewhere I could camp was my best bet. Copenhagen to me is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand you have this town of new offices, shopping malls, gentrified flats and modern development. All things that do nothing for me. The other side of the city is the ‘normality’ of modern Europe, people just getting by however they can.

Trying to rouse my spirits I went to Christiania. An area of the city which I believe attempted to declare itself an independent state using old Danish law in the 70’s. It was partially succesful and despite attempts to gain control of it’s prime real estate it persists. It’s an odd place to me, it’s like every squat and punk house I’ve ever been too all being in one place. Industrious, enterprising but not the normal society. Smoking of hash and weed is pretty open in the area and the beer is cheap. It’s actually a huge tourist magnet and groups of hip looking young people wander around trying not to engage too much with the locals.

Me? I mean I’m a tourist too. Well I ended up sitting, chatting to the local drunks in between them yelling at each other and everyone else. They were nice enough but I decided the offer of one of their floors probably wasn’t for me. I then had a few beers with an American called Joe who busked in the area and later another old American hippy called Pete. It was pretty fun despite the rain having started by this point. They were interesting people who had come to Europe years ago and never left.

Eventually as time got on I realised I needed to get to where I was sleeping and cycled the 6 miles or so out of town to the Sneppen shelter. If you are ever camping in Denmark then download the ‘Shelter’ app. It’s in danish but the icons are pretty easy to understand. With this app you can find a network of shelters and wild camping spots. At Sneppen there were already three guys with their kids and a homeless guy but as it’s a big shelter there was plenty of space.
image

When I woke up the next morning I realised the reason why I felt so low the previous day. I was sick, feeling almost like I had flu and running a temperature. Today was planned as a day off but instead of going back into Copenhagen I decided to stay at the shelter and try to rest and get better. The three guys with their kids left in the morning and in between periods of sleep I chatted to the homeless guy about his life. I never got his name but he seemed genuinely happy and alternated between living with his mother, trying to repair her decrepit house in another part of Denmark and living in shelters on the outskirts of Copenhagen. His brother had had an accident in which he had broken both legs and hips. Living in the shelters meant he was close enough to visit him in rehabilitation.

Being sick and especially running a temperature on tour isn’t good. Essentially you sweat into your non-cycling clothes and your sleeping bag without the means to easily get them clean. This then gives you the choice of wearing cycling clothes that smell of sweat or non-cycling clothes that also smell of sweat until you can find somewhere to wash them. Not the most pleasant experience.
image

However now I’m in Malmo after taking the train here from Copenhagen. Even that wasn’t great as it also serves Copenhagen airport and was packed. I’m still not feeling 100% but I’m getting there. I do have somewhere to stay lined up here and so I’m looking forward to a shower and hopefully doing some laundry. Malmo seems nice, the bicycle infrastructure is equally as good as Copenhagen but with signs! I mean it’s still a city of monuments to excess but smaller so my brain is more able to process it. With that in mind I feel like I’m being harsh on Copenhagen as it does have a lot going for it especially in terms of counter-culture. I guess I’ll definitely have to go back in the future and give it a second chance when I’m not sick.

Resisting tyrannical government.

So I’m in Denmark. It feels like I’ve got here really quickly and I guess I have. Despite the fact I think I need a new saddle I’ve mostly enjoyed ploughing through the miles. Everyday it does feel a struggle at times but after four o’clock in the afternoon I just can’t seem to stop and so I continue on into the light evenings stretching the daily mileage total.
image

As the pedals turn my mind has been whirring away too and I’ve been thinking about the UK election last week. The Conservative party getting back in to power is not ideal but it equally can currently be managed in terms of impact on my life. This then got me thinking in more theoretical terms and I reckon that there are broadly three types of ways people relate to government.

The first is that people actively want to be controlled and have the boundaries of their lives dictated by order or decree. It doesn’t require too much thinking and offers a certain security that must appeal to some people. The second is the idea that some want government by representation, voting and to a degree consensus. Some people require the feeling that they are involved in the decisions affecting their lives. Finally there are clearly some who feel government is uneccessary and that we can organise and live our lives without an outside system of control or governance.

Now looking at the UK system we probably have something that encompasses a bit of the first and a bit of the second. With the emphasis on one or the other depending on who you talk to. It’s worth mentioning that the government aren’t evil. I’m sure they genuinely think they are doing the right thing for the greater good of society. The issue is that the lives they have led mean their view of society is skewed to an elite world many of us will never see and this colours their ideology and actions. Personally I’m probably one of the people who would opt for option three with perhaps a smattering of option two if it a) was consensus driven and b) was small scale and locally/community focussed.
image

The other thing that crossed my mind when considering how we relate and wish to be governed was that the impact of that government on our lives varies. If you as an individual or your community is removed from seats of power and clusters of population the impact of government is often delayed and sometimes lessened. A simplistic example but in the days of physical tax collection if the government levied a £1 tax on all people those who were geographically remote would find that the collection didn’t come around for a while as the tax collector physically had to reach them. Today this is still true to some extent and actually recent austerity policies cutting outlying regional services mean it becomes even more so as remote communities have to be more self sufficient and less reliant on government.

I know I’m being simplistic here but I genuinely believe that if you don’t like the government learn to live without it and shut if out of your life as much as possible. This doesn’t also necessarily require geographical remoteness or isolation. To a degree I’ve been working on the premise of ‘hiding in plain sight’. These ideas aren’t new and I can’t take credit for them but I am applying them in my own way as you would expect.

The first thing I realised was that involvement with the government goes hand in hand with involvement in the capitalist economy and some aspects of wider society. At a base level if you enter the housing market with it’s currently inflated prices you are then also forced to enter the labour market. This then ties you to government through taxes e.g. income and council and you are at the whim of their decisions.

If you can establish a way to meet your housing need (essentially shelter) outside of the standard housing market or with as little involvement as possible you take a step to freeing yourself from government. Now clearly even if you have shelter you also need food. I’ve written elsewhere about the liberating effects of growing your own. Dig for victory over the tories! However in my current mode of meeting my shelter needs by transience and cycle touring it’s not appropriate to grow my own food. So the limited financial funds I have are used to buy food. This isn’t ideal as it’s willing participation in a market and my current methods of funding this aren’t sustainable long term.
image

The long term solution therefore is one of finding a stable shelter outside ‘the market’ in one place and work towards self sufficiency or using the following strategies whilst mobile. Stategy one is short term employment either as labour exchange e.g. ‘woofing’ or a limited participation in the labour market. If the latter this needs to be as I said limited and stay beneath the tax threshold. Strategy two would be to learn the art of foraging and try to meet some of my food needs from nature. Not an easy task and it does have clear dangers resulting in an ‘into the wild’ style scenario. The third strategy would be parasitic activity.

Now parasitic activity needs some explaining. It’s not a new concept but there are ways and means to live off the waste of modern society. Yes I’m talking dumpster diving. However there are other methods that can yeild food through the kindness of strangers. Personally I think that this is really only an adjunct to other strategies if the opportunity presents itself. It needs to be done positively as well i.e. it’s not cool to empty someone else’s fridge but if someone leaves half their meal in a cafe then intercept it before it goes in the bin!

Those who have read some crimethinc will notice I haven’t mentioned shoplifting here. This is deliberate, I am not against stealing from corporations but personally I prioritise my liberty over the reward in this instance. I just think the risk is too high if you are repeatedly stealing food from supermarkets and you’ll get caught eventually.

So I could get pissed off about the Conservatives being back in power or I could look at my life and say actually it doesn’t really affect me because I refuse to fully participate in their system. Now clearly the actions of the government need to be monitored and if you are a vulnerable member of society you will come off worst. Equally we need to be vigilant because if enough people realised the futility of pushing for change and withdrew from the system I’m sure that the goalposts would be moved to combat it. Equally on a personal level if enough people actually listened to me and so these words actually impacted the system my liberty would evaporate pretty quickly even if I was innocent of any legal breach. So the balls in your court, are you going to let the government dictate and control your life or are you going to work out how to limit their impact on you and your community? Lets maybe learn a lesson from the Zapatistas here, if the government insist on cutting the support services in our society, learn to live without government intervention and create your own community based support services. If we don’t need the government they are powerless over us.

Disclaimer: I have no formal training in politics or philosophy these are just my thoughts. If you think there is something I should read so I’m better informed then let me know.

Can’t decide

It feels good to be back on the road again but in two days I’ve crossed the Netherlands and entered Germany. I didn’t mean to go so quickly but long summer daylight hours lend themselves to big miles. In addition I think I have both feelings of both love and hate for the Netherlands.
image

I should love it and it has a lot of positives. Hundreds of miles of cycle paths many of which are seperated from the road and sometimes out of sight and earshot of traffic. This is great, especially as signposts are clear and there are lots of maps so it feels like a joined up network for cycling. The people are really friendly even though I don’t speak the language and a stall holder even gave me a free apple.
image

However I have to admit I’m a mountain man, I need some topography. Not only purely for asthetic reasons but also when cycling. A mountain gives a challenge followed by the reward of a descent. Hundreds of miles on the flat just feels like costant churning of the pedals and saps my enthusiasm. In addition I find the Netherlands, to be honest a bit dull. There is distinct architecture but it doesn’t seem to change across the country and the landscape is equally uniform.
image

So with my legs spinning almost without thinking my thoughts have been drifting. I have been thinking about what I would do differently if I get a chance to be a speaker again at next years cycle touring festival. The event was a big success and has been getting good feedback but personally I think I could have ‘performed’ better.
image

Firstly I would be more prepared for each session and know in my mind what key information I wanted to get across. I went into this year thinking I was the new kid on the block. I expected others to really lead the sessions and assumed that I would be there purely for detailed technical information. In hindsight this isn’t what happened. Essentially I’d like to make sure the sessions were more focused and flowed better.
image

Secondly if required I think I need to have the confidence to take charge and guide the discussion in a session. Again I think my lack of confidence in doing this was because it was the first time I’ve been a speaker at this sort of event. However the event has shown me that I can be confident in front of a large audience and my public speaking skills aren’t that bad.
image

So roll on next year and hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to be the massive bike nerd that I clearly am. I had so much fun talking touring kit for two days it almost made me miss my old job, almost. Now though onwards and upwards through Germany to Hamburg.

Back on Hess and 4th again.

So I made it to Hamburg. However in the process I turned a 310 mile ride into a 370 mile one. I know that there was 20 miles out of the port of Rotterdam I hadn’t accounted for but I’m not sure about the rest. I think following bike routes rather than roads means I had a few unnecessary scenic detours. I say unnecessary as most roads in Germany have a wide shared seperate pavement for pedestrians and cyclists. So I could have navigated purely using signage designed for cars.
image
It’s nice to have a day off after those miles as 70 and 80 mile days weren’t really in my plan. I may however do one more big day tomorrow before catching the ferry to Denmark on Thursday. In Denmark I am the most organised I’ve ever been and have had a route kindly created for me by a twitter contact @bikeAlottle. I also pretty much know where I’m going to camp as the country has designated wild camping areas. So the days are, if all goes to plan definitely going to be shorter. I just need to line up somewhere to stay in Copenhagen and it’s all planned and set out!
image
It was also nice in Hamburg to stay with a friend from Leeds who is living over here and just spend some time relaxing and exploring. I’ve been here before in 2007 (I think) but that was a bit of a whistle stop tour involving a gig and a football game. Today I had a really nice cruise up the river on the ferry which you can do with thr day travel pass train ticket. Wandered some familiar and less familiar streets and sat in the park in the sun and read.
image
It’s weird I had my usual big city misgivings. The anxiety of too many people flooding by me but I also felt strangely at home. It set me thinking that I am getting used to location and friendships being fluid and often fleeting. I may see some of my friends who I used to see regularly less but I am seeing other friends in other towns more and making new friends as well. This feels good, I do like being sociable and it’s nice to create my own personal network of connections which is independent of geography and so adapts to my itchy wandering feet.
image
It all makes me hopeful for the future that I don’t (yet) have to put my flag in the ground anywhere and can use my privilege to roam to connect with people, enjoy their company and learn from them. If anything I’m not sure how I would feel if something or someone presented themselves that made me think about staying in one place for an extended period of time. It’s now almost a scary thought, but as they say we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.