Trip update: At 2230, the phone interrupted Gideon Oliver just as he was about to solve the crime. I stood up from the eBook I was reading and went to the phone. Timoteo Lamkin was inviting me to celebrate the New Year from the family balcony overlooking the fireworks on the Gulf of Gaeta. I had planned to spend a quiet evening hiding from the war zone and its fog of cordite, but I was touched that they would think of me. And so I greeted the New Year in the company of friends and waved a dozen sparklers myself.
Monday night, I heard the first rain in weeks crashing outside as I fell asleep. The next day, lightning, thunder and hail ruled the skies, and I chose to enjoy the safety of thick medieval stone walls rather than get on my rolling lightning rod for a wet ride.
Other than that, it’s been a quiet week. The Befana came on Epiphany Eve and did not leave me coal. (The good witch on a flying broomstick is the Italian predecessor of Santa Claus in children’s mythology. She refused to take in the three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem and spends eternity trying to find them. One take on the legend is beautifully portrayed in the short opera Amal and the Night Visitors, by Giancarlo Menotti).
I often tell my friends that I never repeat a mistake, but that I expect to make every mistake at least once. I guess that makes me a “life-long learner.” I am not admitting to any mistakes here, but let’s see what I have learned.
Intercontinental 2016 began with the planning last winter, as I was moving from Piane d’Archi in the Abruzzo to Formia in southern Lazio. It ended on 17 November, after more than 4400 km on the bicycle, many hundred by train and bus, and six over-water flights. I toured seven countries on two continents. The year 2016 has been one of major changes on the global, national and local levels almost everywhere, and it has been so on a personal level for me. This week I am stopping to take stock. Some of these may surprise you, but most of them should have been coming out in the blog as the adventure unfolded. In no particular order, here are some lessons I have taken away:
Bicycle touring is not the same as living and working on a bicycle. When touring on a bicycle, a rider like me can cover anywhere from 50 to 100 km in a day. Upon arriving, one sets up camp, fixes dinner, enjoys the beach or woods, maybe a campfire, and goes to bed. When arriving in a city, one spends time walking to the many sites, goes to dinner, enjoys the night life, and goes to bed. The itinerary comes from the guidebooks and bicycle touring resources.
When living and working on a bicycle, I cannot cover the same distance or devote as much time to the sights and wonders. I usually cover about 50 km in a day, occasionally 80 km if I know that I am going to stay for a while at a destination. I have to allow time each day to get some work done. My itinerary is driven less by the Michelin guide than by the events on my calendar and the people I want to visit.
One can do both at the same time, but only alone. The exception is when a couple or a team who work together are touring. Such couples have produced some fantastic blogs and books. When I tour with Cheryl, I put an “out-of-the-office” message on the email autoresponder and the blog takes a break. That is why the travelogues that follow each tour last so long. Also, anything in the travelogues relevant to living on the road usually applies to bicycle touring and only coincidentally applies to working on the road.
I now enjoy bicycle touring for its own sake very much. I had essentially no serious experience in long distance touring before I met Cheryl. The Southern Swing 2013 was exclusively an experiment in living and working on the road, not bicycle touring. I expect more major changes in 2017, after which I would like to tour exclusively.
There are countless excellent books and blogs about bicycle touring and world travel by much more interesting bicycle tourists than me. Just Google “bicycle touring” and you will be flooded by wonderful resources. I never meant to produce a travel blog or a blog for expatriates living abroad.
I have not really been working on my bicycle since I came to Italy. The bureaucratic activity to establish my residence in Italy kept me tied to Piane d’Archi and then Formia except for the six months that I travelled in France, England, Canada, California, Spain and Portugal. However, only for two of those months (May and June) was I working on my bicycle. For the other four months, I spent two working in Vancouver, and two bicycle touring (as defined above). When I am Italy, I have been working at my base camp: the flat in Formia. That is not really “on the road” now that I have become a card-carrying Italian resident.
- I could not ride around any large Schengen Area country in the three months allowed on a tourist visa. Residence in the EU would allow me to ride freely all over Europe for as long as I needed.
- I grew up in Italy, and have always wanted to live there again. I have done that. Indeed, Piane d’Archi and Formia have been as much home to me as any place I have lived. Mission accomplished.
After I settled in Italy, Cheryl pointed out that I could have asked for the three-month tourist visa to be extended to six months, because the basic rule is “six months in one year”. That would have allowed me to ride quite extensively around the Schengen Area, leaving for other horizons when the six months were up. Well, I live in Europe now, so that’s that. However, should I decide to return to North America, I now know that I could return for an extended European tour any time, even should my Italian sojourner’s permit expire.
“Six months is about the max,” Cheryl told me one night over wine and cheese. We were discussing her six-month odyssey in 2013 across the United States, followed by Ireland, Spain and France. She was right: if one has a home to go back to (i.e., not on a world tour with all bridges burned), it feels very good to land “home” at the end of a long tour. I learned that feeling when I opened the door to my musty apartment in Formia last November.
So, what does this mean for the Freewheeling Freelancer and his blog? I don’t know exactly. I invite you to help me figure it out. Here are some things that could change in 2017.
Purpose of the blog. I launched it to record my experiment of living and working on a bicycle. After more than three years, I think that the blog has accomplished its purpose. By January 2014, I had proved that I could support the nomadic lifestyle only from my earnings as a translator. Over the next two years, I refined that with improvements in my outfitting, and finding various ways to travel by bike. I will gather the posts about living and working on the road, and put them into an illustrated book, which should be available in 2018. As with the blog, it will NOT be a travel book, but hopefully a resource for those who might want to try the nomadic lifestyle before retirement.
The Travelogues. The touring travelogues, especially the Northern Trek 2014, Europe 2015, and Intercontinental 2016, can be combined with the trip updates from Southern Swing 2013 into a travel book. Again, that would be a standalone e-book.
The Sea Stories. These are a completely different animal, something that I started when I began to run out of fresh material for the main topic of the blog. They were well received, so I continued them. However, they do not fit the original purpose of the blog, and I do plan to write a more complete memoir book later. I will save these short-short stories for the chapters of that book.
Periodicity. When actually writing the blog, I have only missed my self-imposed deadline of 1400 (US Eastern Time) every Saturday three times (not counting when on tour, as defined above). Having achieved my purpose, I propose to discontinue this practice after I finish the current crop of planned posts. There are 8 of these (four sea stories and four living-and-working posts). Where the blog goes after that will depend on the feedback I receive from you.
I am a writer; let me write “on spec” for you, my readers. What would you like to see? Post a comment here, or write to email@example.com.
Next week, a sea story, until then,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,