Closing remarks

Fresh snow in Kiev. It cleared off just in time for the sunset.

Pardon me if this post seems wandering and disjointed. It’s reflective of how the pieces came together. A bit here, a bit there. Loosely connected in my head via emotion, but not cohesive. Since this has become more a blog about me and my experiences than about cycle touring, I figure it should be reflective of what’s actually in my head.

I’ve been reflecting on the last 8 months as my time in Europe quickly draws to an end. It’s somber and exciting. On the one hand, I’m leaving a place that really any American could find comfort. Europe, while having countries in economic difficulty, is certainly a place where you can find all the amenities you have at home. Okay, so in Trebinje maybe you can’t find limes or sweetened condensed milk. But, you can get lime juice and you can make sweetened condensed milk in about 30-40 minutes. It’s a slower pace of life, so why not make it?

A French cowboy ninja. Watch him, he’s quick.

On the other hand I have a feeling that I’m about to start all over. A new world awaits. I’ll start much the same by going to a major tourist spot (Phuket), but after that I’m not sure what will happen. It’s hot, humid, and certainly foreign.

It’s been a wonderful 8 months. The trip started with a bang, partying in the south of Spain, and then many, many flat tires. I quickly found my first  travel buddies, who I had hoped to see in Tel Aviv before heading to Asia. I don’t remember for sure how long we traveled in parallel, but it seems like it must have been close to 3 weeks. After them I didn’t find another travel companion until I was in Croatia, 4-5 months later. Antoine. 

Just a dog chasing a tailpipe.

Antoine is a really nice French guy, who on our last day riding together saw a really frustrated Andrew. We left late because he was slow to get moving in the morning on a long, mountainous day which set the stage for a foul mood. Many wrong turns, a broken chain, and broken trailer later, I was at my wits/patience end. When we rolled into Trebinje just after dark I knew things were about to change, but I thought it was limited to us parting ways. He was the first person on this trip that I regret how I behaved around. He was nice, helpful, upbeat, and relaxed. Sometimes a bit too relaxed for my liking, but that’s okay. 

There was an age and experience gap (in basically all ways) that I’m sure had a bit to do with some of our differences. Even after 8 months I still have problems letting the reins fly free. I like to control things. He was a free spirit and dealt with things as they occurred. Riding in the dark? That’s fine for him, but there is no way I want to be on a curvy road in Bosnia at dusk/after dark. Maybe he still feels invincible, and I’ve had one too many moments where my butt puckered hard enough that I swear I could taste my saddle and had the thought “Oh shit! This is it!”. I don’t know what causes these differences, but it’s hard to find people that share the same riding philosophy. I can’t imagine how people find someone they share enough with to be together long term.

That’s where Trebinje comes in. 

How did I get so lucky? I don’t make friends easily, and they are generally short lived. Not just in travel life, but in real life. I would rather have a beer and lunch with a familiar bartender than most of, but certainly not all, the people I’ve ever worked with. That’s not to say that I don’t like my ex co-workers, it’s just that for the most part I can’t see myself spending much time with them outside of the work environment. But, somehow two random people decided they liked me as much as I liked them. So I packed up my bike and followed them to Poland. 

Travelling with my bike packed is NOT fun. An unfortunate soul, the one to give me the nickname “Dandrew”, saw me grouchy for many days on the trip north. Coincidentally, she is the second woman to give me that nickname. Approximately 15 years after the first. This time it came from a story about a trip to Santa Barbara and is a contraction of “dancing Andrew”. Some of you might have been there and undoubtedly remember the evening I recounted that earned me that nickname. She is the second person to witness behavior I regret. She didn’t deserve to be the target of my frustration and inner turmoil. Nothing to do but apologize, hope I can finally learn from it, and move on. 

And so it begins. The return of Dandrew.

It’s a bit odd attending a wedding for people I met a matter of months ago. Drinking vodka with their families, and feeling overcome with… gratitude? But, it’s more than that. I was happy. I was sad. I was generally confused about what I felt. 

Just when I feel a bit tired of traveling, it gives me something to think about and feel that I can’t explain. 

At times leading up to the wedding I actually wondered why I ever agreed to go. But, I’m immensely happy I did. I don’t know how to put into words how happy I was to see Lauren and Bartek get married. It was much like seeing some of my life-long friends get married. But, why? How could I feel the same for people I met a few month’s ago, as I did for long term friends? Who knows. Travel is weird.

Bartek and Lauren, thank you for everything. I love you both.

The happy couple!

As I mentioned above, I didn’t make it to Tel Aviv. I got sick, probably a side effect of a weakened immune system from partying around wedding time and my final dose of hep A/B vaccine before heading to Asia. The busses and trains were late, bla bla car couldn’t get me to Kiev, and I missed my flight. I was bummed. Really bummed. But that’s how it works sometimes. So I found a flight to Rome from Lviv, and spent the week prior traveling to the big cities in Ukraine. It was good. Maybe someday I’ll be back and ride from the Balkans to Baltics or something. 

During the week in Ukraine, I happened to read a book that was perfectly timed. Haruki Murakami tends to have main characters that I can identify with. So I think I’ll end with a couple short quotes from “Dance Dance Dance” that seem fitting for the times. I constantly feel like strings from the past are being pulled trying to lead me towards the future that, maybe, should have been my present. Much like the main character in “Dance Dance Dance”, maybe I just need to untangle the strings.

You live by yourself for a stretch of time and you get to staring at different objects. Sometimes you talk to yourself. You take meals in crowded joints. You develop an intimate relationship with your used Subaru. You slowly but surely become a has-been.

“Maybe I’m being too hard on you. But listen, I don’t care what other people do. I don’t want to hear that sort of talk from you. You shouldn’t say things like that lightly, as if saying them is going to solve anything. They don’t stick. You think you feel sorry about Dick, but I don’t believe you really do. If I were Dick, I wouldn’t want your easy regret. I wouldn’t want people saying, ‘Oh, I acted horribly.’ It’s not a question of manners; it’s a question of fairness. That’s something you have to learn.”

“So what do I have to do?” 

“Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “You gotta dance. As long as the music plays. You gotta dance. Don’t even think why. Start to think, your feet stop. Your feet stop, we get stuck. We get stuck, you’re stuck. So don’t pay any mind, no matter how dumb. You gotta keep the step. You gotta limber up. You gotta loosen what you bolted down. You gotta use all you got. We know you’re tired, tired and scared. Happens to everyone, okay? Just don’t let your feet stop.”

 I looked up and gazed again at the shadow on the wall. 

“Dancing is everything,” continued the Sheep Man. “Dance in tip-top form. Dance so it all keeps spinning. If you do that, we might be able to do something for you. You gotta dance. As long as the music plays.” 

Dance. As long as the music plays, echoed my mind.

And so, I’ll keep dancing



Published by: Andrew Monfort

I am a former engineer who decided to follow my dreams. After 9 years of working as a process engineer in the oil & gas production and refining industries, I decided to follow my passions (cycling and travel) to see where they lead.

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