A swim in late autumn (Or how I didn’t make it)

The day was fully planned; in the morning I would start an guerrilla action for the cinema I’m working at and in the afternoon we would be in a radio show with our travel collective. Although sickness got the best of some people, the radioshow didn’t go on. All of a sudden there was a free afternoon on my hands!

For my upcoming trip I had to come up with a creative idea, and I had to straighten my head as well. So the only reasonable thing to do was to take my bike on this cold, grey and windy day, go to a lake and jump in. Cycle 20 kilometers back and have a warm shower as a reward. So I packed my swimming shorts, towel and cycled out of town. It was just 4 degrees celcius, but the cycling should make me warm.

stadThe first natural shower came. Then another one. And another…waterik2

Wet and soaked by all the showers I got to a place with many small lakes. The cutting wind was blowing like it does in late autumn, and all the lakes had electric fences around them, like they have in the Netherlands. Now, the urge to jump in a body of freezing water was tempered by the idea of drying off afterwards, and putting my cold and soaked clothing on again. And then cycling 20 kilometers trough the rain. The moment I decided to leave the swim and cycle back, there was a small sensation of disappointment. But then again, it would be nice not to get sick because I had the urge to swim while the weather was so crappy. The sun was setting and although I was wet and cold the sunset warmed my core.
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Nevertheless the weather was trying to get the best of me! I had to resort to more drastic measures: Fried fish!

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Coming home I felt like I went on a small adventure. The idea of a swim earlier that day made me excited and the bikeride lifted my spirits high enough to not care about the wet weather. My thoughts where sorted again and the creative idea came too. Cycling is not just going from A to B for me, it’s a way to clear things in my head. An active meditation and a good way to feel the nature around me. That I didn’t really go for a swim doesn’t matter, the moment of getting on my bike and cycling off matters the most. Going out, even if it’s just for a couple of hours can give you just what you need sometimes.

Leaving a wet trail behind me, I walked into my home. Damn, I felt like I swam with all my clothes on!

The creative problem I had to think of during this bike ride is for my next little trip. You can like my Facebook if you’d like to hear more of this!

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What did I learn from cycling 2500 km’s without GPS, paper maps or electronic navigation?

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An excerpt from my diary: ” After I cycled into France my own drawn map stopped. Now I’m just going from village to village and I just hope there is a map of the area. I’m just cycling south until I find a roadmap. The feeling of doubt where I’m going really starts to grow now. It’s hard when you don’t know where you’re going, because how can I ask people for help? “Sorry monsieur, do you know how to get to the Mt Blanc? Or maybe to the south?” By the way, my French is totally “terrible”, so I’m not even able to ask such a question. Maybe I have to change my strategy and actively search for maps.”

Now why did I try to cycle from Maastricht to the Mt Blanc without GPS, maps or any type of electronic navigation? When I was looking at the most important possessions you have while traveling, a map is one of it. When I get to a town, the first thing I do is to get a map of the town. You can see where you are, and how to get to the place where you want to go. Nowadays it’s made easier by GPS, smartphones and navigation devices. These devices tell you where to go, or when to go left for example. So actually you don’t need to think at all anymore. Just follow the device and you’ll get to your endpoint. But isn’t part of an adventure finding your way in places you don’t know? For me it is. Also I got used to google maps when I have to find a place but I decided to ditch all maps and electronic navigation to see if I still knew how to navigate myself. The only things I allowed myself to use were a compass and drawings from locals or maps I found. Could I rely on my own skills to get to the Mt Blanc and back?

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Yes I could. I managed to cycle from Maastricht to the Mt Blanc and back on my own drawn maps, the compass and eventually I learned how to use the sun. But it was hard. Especially in the beginning, because my drawing skills kind of suck. I had no clue how to make a map, and the first couple of days my maps contained only lines, circles and names from cities. This was wrong, I had to make more detailled maps, with road names, crossroads and rivers. Next to the crappy maps I had to navigate on, there was the constant search for roadmaps. Every moment I had to be sharp and search for them. Every map I came across I had to stop at, have a look and maybe draw the missing piece on my own maps. I think this was the hardest of all. Constantly keeping your eyes open, and all this while it was 35C.

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Almost all the maps I came across I drew in my little “Mapbook”. I would also ask people, but the locals wanted to send me on the easiest way. And the easiest way were the big roads. Full with trucks, busses and cars. I didn’t want to take these roads, but being as it was, I had no choice. A couple of times I ignored the advise and went my own way, but I mostly ended up going back or cycling 20 kilometers more then necessary. Sometimes advise is there to take and stubbornness is there to ignore.

kaart2 kaart3During these five weeks I learned how to navigate on the sun. I learned how to draw maps that are ok for me to use. But the most important thing is how I learned how to deal with frustration and to trust myself. On one day I cycled just 60 kilometers. Of this 60 kilometers 20 where a detour. So actually one third of the day I was just cycling for nothing. Going wrong ways, and going back. This leads to frustration; why can’t I find the right way I just drew!? Or the moment when I saw a little tiny road going trough forrest on a map. I wanted to take this road, so I did my best to find it. In the end I ended up at a big traffic road, again… This happened multiple times, and multiple times I scorned myself for this. But this just happens when you cycle without a map. It’s part of the journey. When I realized this, I was more relaxed about detours. I mean, they still suck but now I wasn’t so frustrated about them anymore. But also I had to trust myself. Roads in real life look different then roads in my mapbook. I had to trust the maps I’ve made, and stick to them.

In my opinion it’s a good idea to cycle without a map because it gives you a new way of looking at your environment. If you’d like to do this too, let me give you some tips:

  • Make your maps detailled; put road numbers in there (D64 for example), crossroads and villages or cities.
  • For camping you can also put forrest area’s in there, it helped me a couple of times.
  • Don’t forget to write down a lot of villages you find on the maps you will draw from. It happend to me more then once that I had no clue where I was because the name of the village was not in my drawing.
  • Learn how to use the sun.
  • Find rivers, mountains and other landmarks.
  • A compass doesn’t work as good in the mountains as on flat land.
  • Let locals make a drawing in stead of telling you where you should go.
  • Don’t put camembert in your bag when it’s +35C.
  • Trust your gut and yourself.

Did any of you make journeys without maps, GPS or electronic devices? Let me know in the comments!

You can check my articles about this, films or follow me on Facebook!

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Types of music to listen to when traveling

When I go on a journey, one of my close friends is my Ipod. Music is very important to me, and it can guide me trough hard time, as wel as trough the good ones. During my last trip I found out that every type of weather screams for certain kinds of music. Lets see what it is and have a listen!

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calls for slow and full music. Music that is like syrup but also a bit pushy. Pushing you trough the heat of the moment. Just keep going while the blanket of heat surrounds you.

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Imagine: you’re totally soaked, everything is wet and the rain just keeps pouring down. You can take shelter somewhere, but you still have 60 kilometers to go. And next to this, it will rain all day long… What do you do then? Well, you can put your mindset at rain, and your Ipod on some repetitive loud music.

Or put on some “Aquabass”

fogSo there you are, riding on your bike trough foggy forests or down a mountain enrobed by a thick mist. Now there is just one thing you can do, put on some mysterious music.

busy roadsMostly I try to take the roads that are hidden. But traveling without a map might push you on a huge road. A road that is filled with cars, or a road that is for sure not made for cyclists. What to do? Go back and search for another road, or take my Ipod and listen to some of this…?

Actually there is nothing else during dangerous roads. Just Black Sabbath. (When the road gets really dangerous, its better to take the music off and concentrate on cycling and not getting into accidents)

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At some points you will find these beautiful roads you’ve been searching for. The forest paths. Small, rough, curvy and full of surprises. Best taken downhill and with a pinch of wildling music, like Korpiklaani.

uphillSometimes you just need that little extra energy to get you there. When you go uphill and see a sign saying 19% for example. This is when I turn up the volume, take an extra zip of water and go!

gooddayRain, heat, fog, uphill, downhill and forests. Mostly this stuff is not there. It’s just a nice day, you’re cycling along and nothing special is happening. It’s just a good day. And a good day calls for good music. Really good music, that might lift you up and makes you sing while you’re cycling.

Of course there is way more music out there, specific for all the types of experiences, emotions or phases you go trough when traveling. But the most important it to know when to lose the music, and just listen to the things around you. Nothing sounds better then the crackling of a fire, not even music!

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Cycling to the International Cycling Film Festival

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When I looked outside my window it was foggy and it cold. Vague colors of the trees would shine trough the fog, and I already saw myself in the middle of the forrest with my tarp. Red, brown and yellow leaves would be all around me, while I was making a fire or drinking coffee in the morning. Getting ready for the ride towards the Rough Conditions Adventure Film Festival and the International Cycling Film Festival in Herne, Germany. But I was not there yet, from where I was looking out the window to Herne was 220 kilometers. And traveling to an adventure and cycling film festival should be done in style, with a bike and a tarp!

The first couple of hours where messy. My odometer didn’t seem to work, I nearly lost my lamp, almost fell down and injured myself a little and did a 10 km detour. But soon I was on my way trough the colorful forests. The fog was still there, and this made everything look as mysterious as Grimm story. While it was getting dark around 17:00 I decided to cycle on in the dark. My phone didn’t work anymore since I was in Germany now, but I knew what road to take. It was a long road. A big road with a small cycling path next to it. No traffic lights, just darkness. I made my way over the 20 kilometer long road. Nothing but farmlands and an occasional headlights from cars. Eventually I found a beautiful spot for my tarp somewhere in a small bush.

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The next day the weather became better, I was even cycling in my t-shirt! And this in the end of October! Needles to say I was enjoying the trip very much. The smell of autumn, colors of the trees and soft temperatures made everything perfect. At 20:00 I arrived in Herne, just in time for homemade pizza and beer with the guys from the film festival.

Last year I got to know the people from the festival. I’ve sent my very first adventure film and it was on the program. They also invited me, and there was a click, so this year it was time to push things a bit further.

I was asked to program the Friday evening, the day before the main event. The idea of the Rough Conditions Adventure Film Festival was born, and it was my task to make a selection of films ending with my own film “Why we go out” as an answer to the question: what does adventure mean? We had 8 films in total ranging from cycling till swimming till rowing. But an adventure is a story and these can be told in many ways. Making the festival a bit broader then just films I gave a talk about the rollerblading trip I took last February to show that normal people like me are fit for an adventure too. More films came, and before the main film we held a discussion with the audience about what adventure means to us, and what the films ment to us. This discussion was held from a rubber boat on the stage. Perfect!

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Saturday was the day of the main event: the International Cycling Film Festival. The whole thing started with a 50 man strong Critical Mass starting in Dortmund, I joined in Bochum. A while later we arrived in Herne, where the Dortmund Velo Kitchen waited for us with delicious banana curry, good for the leg muscles! At 17:00 the afternoon program started. While eating my curry I saw a very cool animation about Albert Hofmann his cycling “trip” back home from his laboratorium. I wondered how long the road back home would’ve been for him.

Around 19:00 the hall became fuller. At 19:30 all the chairs where taken. At 20:00 everybody was sitting and standing everywhere! 300 people where here to celebrate  cycling culture! Loads of pannier bags, click shoes and cycling shirts. The films sucked up the attention of the audience and between the films the was a real race. Cyclists can’t go without a race, thats a common fact. But since we where in a hall, the organizers came up with a great idea. Make a digital race! With record-players hooked on hometrainers. The faster you cycle on the hometrainer, the faster the record plays and the faster the image moves on the screen. From two people, the fastest would go on, until there was only one left.

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More films where playing, from documentaries till short animations. But all with bikes in them. People cheered, were amused or thrilled. There were 16 films to show, but only one could be the winner of the famous “Goldene Kurbel”. This was the Dutch film: “De benen van Amsterdam” (The legs of Amsterdam) from Wytse Koetse about a bike repair man from Amsterdam. His job is not only repairing bicycles, but more helping people when their “legs” are broken. The audience award was also for a Dutch film: “Groen” (Green) from Lucas Camps about a guy standing before a traffic light. I think all the people could recognize this situation.

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For me it was a great weekend full of cyclists, cycling-films and banana curry. It was a celebration of adventure and cycling culture. A day where cyclists and adventurers from the Ruhr area in Germany meet, talk, make plans and drink a cold beer together. Who knows what kind of journeys where inspired by this weekend.

On Sunday it was time for me to return home. I would take the train, but not before I cycled from Herne to Oberhausen, trough the last sun rays while the most colorful leaves fell from the trees. In the end I took the train back to the Netherlands. In the train I had time to reflect and knew this cycling world was a good world. Crazy events are held, people are active and motivated. Im glad I will be hosting the festival in 2016 in Groningen. Groningens first cycling film festival will be a fact and maybe we will have a swim first, like this year.

Gernot-alex-erwin2Also check out my facebook page if you like adventure and films!