August 9, 2014

8 Tips I Learned from Biking Across Europe. ~ Toby Benedict Cann

Toby Benedict Cann
Having just pedaled alone from Geneva in Switzerland, to Frome in South West England via Santander in Northern Spain (that’s around 1400km over just under two weeks on my bike), I came up with a set of guidelines that helped inform me during the journey and I thought might benefit others.

I am so hugely grateful to Meg and our kids Elianne and Albie for giving me this time.

Plan less and do more.

I didn’t make a detailed itinerary, I didn’t arrange any accommodation in advance, I had the luxury of time and I just got on with it. There weren’t hours of online research, dithering over which campsite to choose from, or weeks of purchasing the right equipment.

There was only one question—how far could I go?

Okay, so I did have my bike serviced before I left but what I really wanted was to experience the journey, ride until I was tired, find food when I was hungry, find a place to sleep when it got dark. It’s a feeling of freewheeling freedom I have had in my blood since first encountering Huckleberry Finn aged six and I wholeheartedly recommend we all experience it on a regular basis.

Simple equipment is best.

By simple, I mean stuff that I could mend, preferably with tape. If I didn’t know how it worked I left it at home—our bodies and minds are complicated enough.

Write to someone every day.

I sent a postcard to my kids from every place I slept. I hope that it might sow the seeds for their own journey when they are older.

The routine of finding the card, the stamp, the café to write from, the postbox, brought a rhythm to my day and gave my mind a much needed reboot. So much of the day was rooted in the sensing mind, living each turn and sinew of the road that a period of reflection was of huge benefit.

Stick to taking no more than two snapshots of your journey a day.

Balancing my desire to be completely off the grid and sharing parts of my life online with family and friends was always going to be a tough one.

What I realised is that if I imposed a limit on what I captured it tended to make me more discerning. More importantly I wanted to be a participant in my journey. I didn’t want to be a simple witness to the ride—recording it all on some disposable digital medium, seeing life through the viewfinder.

Preserving its beauty in mind requires a deeper commitment. (And by the way you have to cycle the Rhone valley at least once in your life!)

Work hard but take regular time off.

Those road side moments, sat for a while protected by a tree from the elements—they now seem like the best parts. The road is endless—it can take us anywhere, but it will wait for us and it doesn’t go anywhere by itself.

It really isn’t a race.

Even the simple act of taking myself out of the traffic and on to the pavement to get my bearings for a moment was always a good thing.

Climb the hills slowly.

I tried the physical charges to the top and they were just not sustainable. Climbing is, for me, mind more than body. A steady disciplined climb, focused on the bikes slow progress rather than aiming full kilter for the summit worked best for me. And not forgetting, there are always more hills to climb.

Savour the positive encounters with others throughout your day.

I thought about stealth camping, I wrote to a friend who shared his thoughts on the matter.

Put your faith in other humans he said. Don’t hide from the world, trust the world he said. So I did.

However brief, however simple—invariably all my interactions with others were sharings of kindness and compassion. Sometimes I had to seek it, but love was always present. Isn’t it our responsibility as the traveller to make sure the next wanderers are given the same welcome we enjoyed receiving?

And always stay near water.

Over time water create level ground to ride next to. It’s true it sometimes meanders, and sometimes those open spaces provided limited cover from nature’s elements. But being a part of the abundance of life in and around the water- gave me the greatest pleasure. And it’s funny but it seems like no one is ever a stranger near water.



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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Author’s Own

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Shana Apr 14, 2015 12:50pm

i just loved reading this, so much! thank you for sharing!

i dream of visiting the Basque Country! "lucky" you!

bless you!

bwaits1974 Aug 12, 2014 6:11am

Fantastic Article! I made a similar trek to Indonesia a few years ago for 2+ months. My plan was not to have a plan – it worked more beautifully than I could have ever imagined. I had promised my friends and family that I would write and post about the entire journey – in the end, I just wanted to present and living in the moment versus trying to explain it to people that were not having the experience. It was life changing. I also met some of the most incredible human beings walking on the face of the earth. I was alone in a foreign country, yet, I was surrounded by a family of friends from every walk of life. We stayed up late at night and talked about life, religion, dreams. To this day, I remain in touch with a few of those beautiful souls that accompanied me and became my family during my solo journey. I highly recommend everyone do this. It will change your life (for the better). You realize that the world really is but a small place. You learn that the human experience is much the same – we are all seeking the same attributes/experiences from life. CARPE DIEM! You only LIVE ONCE (but as Mae West says – if you do it right, once is enough).

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Toby Benedict Cann

Toby Cann is a father, a school teacher, a husband, a gardener, a bicycle riding, mixtape making, amateur film producing dyslexic with a love of the Basque country and a fear of flying. He loves lemon meringue pie, sandlewood, 90’s French house music and good boots.