Together with the first Spanish spring sun rays, I’ve been feeling more enthousiastic about getting on my bike again. I’ve spent 4 months in the mountains near Spanish Valencia – and I’ve enjoyed every bit of my time here – but freedom is calling. I’m looking forward to once more gliding through wonderful landscapes, meeting new people and living a new adventure every day.
Hand in hand with my enthusiasm, some mixed feelings arise at this imminent departure. It strikes me that there is an inner resistance that makes it harder for me to effectively jump back into the deep end. Moreover, this is very recognisable, since there are many similarities with the period before my departure from Belgium. To help you understand that a little better, let me take you through the process that eventually led me to this kind of journey.
For years, the image of adventurers on fully loaded bicycles made me dream. From an early age I moved almost exclusively by bicycle (semi-forced but at the same time with great pleasure) and even after that I regularly took my steel steed from the stable.
Over the past 10 years, I set out on several adventures with my backpack to relatively remote corners of the world. Cycling travelers regularly appeared on my path and every time I felt every fiber in my body screaming that this looked incredible! I adore the atmosphere of traveling by public transport (especially in Africa and Latin America), but at the same time the landscapes flashing by often made me daydream about what it would be like to travel these routes by bike. I didn’t even think it was about the cycling itself or about seeing the landscapes. What particularly appealed to me was the combination of the freedom to go wherever you want, the fact that it is actually a challenge to complete a trajectory and the associated vulnerability along the way that also ensures that you experience much more.
Moreover, the internet regularly went the extra mile: these kinds of photos make my mouth water.
How would that actually work, then?
The first phase appeared several times, but every time I started to dig a little deeper, my ideal image was surrounded by a swarm of question marks.
- When I travel by bike, I naturally also want to visit an interesting destination. Where do I go?
- I only have a few weeks off. How do I get to a destination with a bicycle before I can make a trip there?
- Actually, I don’t have a good, reliable bike.
- Oh no, there are 100000 possible bicycle models with all their pros and cons.
- What do I do if my bicycle breaks down on the way?
- Where would I sleep?
- A tent seems like a good idea.
- Oh no, there are 10000 possible tents with all their pros and cons.
- I don’t really know anything about camping. Let’s ask my experienced friend Wouter what that would look like.
- Oh no…
- How do I carry my luggage?
- I need quite a few bags.
- Which bags do I need exactly?
- I need quite a few bags.
- It’s probably going to rain on the way too. And what if it gets really cold?
- I’m actually not in very good shape right now…
More than once this avalanche of ambiguities developed, and each time the storm of enthusiasm subsided and the plans moved back into the background.
The issues of the day took over again and I went on with my life, until another fully loaded bike rolled into my mind and the process started again at the first stage.
“Following-through is the only thing that separates dreamers from people that accomplish great things.”Gene Hayden
Actie ondernemen = obstakels wegnemen
With the passage of time, plans or people regularly appeared in my path and gradually helped me to solve one of the problems every now and then.
Before and during our adventure to South America, I learned a lot about the art of camping.
I was also able to pick up this (beautiful) bike for a bargain price.
I disassembled it and treated it to a much-needed major overhaul. I thought it would be interesting to do this myself – on the one hand because I suddenly had loads of time in April 2020, but also because it would teach me a lot about how bicycles work.
It quickly became clear to me that cycling could be a very meaningful pastime during the past year. That’s why I decided that after many years it was time to invest in a new bike, and when choosing my Bombtrack (<3) I looked for one that gave me as many options as possible. Brisk bike rides with comrades were no problem for this bike, both on asphalt and on unpaved terrain. But in the back of my mind I chose this bike mainly for its adventurous potential. And she continues to amaze me!
While discovering the (amazing) beauty close to home, my dream image started to resurface. And along with that fantasy, a lot of questions and uncertainties appeared. But on the one hand because of a greater confidence in my own abilities and on the other hand because of a stronger desire to live an adventure like this, I decided to push through this time and really prepare myself by removing as many barriers as possible. I didn’t know when I would leave, where I would go and how long I would be on the road, but it was clear to me that it would happen and it was important to be ready when the time came.
I spent the next few weeks and months getting ready for an adventure. At when at the end of August my life started flowing in a direction where it was time to leave, I also felt confident enough to jump. I still had no idea what I was getting into and it was still pretty scary letting go of everything, but my preparation made me feel safe enough to trust in my own abilities.
That looks familiar
Looking at this process from a distance, conceptually it pretty much corresponds to my experience of quite a few other decisions or life situations – some more drastic than others.
- Creating this website and publishing my thoughts.
- My attitude and sense of initiative on a professional level.
- Starting your own company.
- Peoples behavior in a group.
The figure below, which I have come across regularly in various contexts, helps me to better understand the underlying dynamics of this process.
Whenever I started dreaming of a cycling adventure I was wonderfully nestled in my comfort zone, surrounded by everything I needed. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but when the pendulum swings too far, I allow myself to doze off. When the image of a fully loaded bicycle enters my head at such a moment, my thoughts move to the ‘stretch’ area, which generates an energy boost. Deep down I know that this is what I want and ‘should’ be doing and that excites me. A lot.
During the realization of this dream image, however, several obstacles become apparent and as a result my stream of thoughts moves a little further out in the diagram. Enthusiasm gives way to stress. What at first seemed exciting is overshadowed by the lack of clarity and blocks my mind. From this ‘panic situation’ it is difficult to find the energy and composure to tackle the obstacles. Eventually the dream fades into the background and I re-establish myself in the fuzzy warmth of my comfort zone.
However, in life nothing is immutable. Or as Herakleitos would have put it so beautifully more than 2500 years ago:
Panta Rhei. Everything flows.Herakleitos
Over time, each of us – voluntarily or not – accumulates experiences. These impressions can cause the boundaries of the different zones to shift. After such a small change in mindset, you may approach and experience the same experience or event in a completely different way. The figure below, in which the black cross always represents the same event, illustrates this concept.
When viewed in the context of my story, the different things I learned (camping, bike mechanics) moved the outer boundary of my stretch zone. An adventure that was previously still deep in the red zone (A) suddenly became a lot more feasible (B). Just as the outer limit of the stretch zone can be extended, the comfort zone can also increase in size. For example, something that currently instills great fear in you can become a piece of cake within a few years. When you first touch a musical instrument, your favorite songs seem immensely complex and challenging. A few months (or years) of practice later, thanks to your improved skills, you’ll probably be able to play those same songs with your eyes closed. Well, that also depends a bit on your taste, I have experienced.
In the same way, the boundaries of the different zones can move in the other direction. A ‘negative’ experience, or even simply a bad day, can cause your stretch zone to shrink a lot (C), which completely shifts your frame of reference again.
I find it fascinating to think about life as a very large collection of these types of diagrams. An event can almost always be approached from different angles. For example, a long bike ride may be physically within your comfort zone, but at the same time the uncertainty and the prospect of being alone often and for a long time may cause you panic.
I am convinced that it is impossible to fully understand this, but this kind of tool can help you to step back from time to time and look at your own behavior and feelings through a different lens. It won’t provide the truth, but it might give you a push in the right direction.
After 30 years of learning, it is now clear to me that I myself need a healthy balance between the two zones on the inside of the diagram. My life has the most exciting dynamics when I am in the stretch zone, but at the same time I cannot do without periods of rest and regeneration that I find back in my comfort zone. Once nestled there, I can genuinely enjoy it, but often I only end up there when I really can’t do anything else and long for peace.
After a while it starts to itch again, but at that moment it costs me a lot of energy to get moving effectively because new ambiguities appear. This again causes procrastination to prepare for the next ‘leap in the dark’. And so the cycle continues.
I notice that it is a lot easier to get moving again when I consciously choose some mental rest on time and consciously. That way I still have some gas in the tank to prepare myself for another exciting period during the rest period.
In retrospect I notice this every time, but just as history does not repeat itself in exactly the same way, in my personal experience this process often appears in a different disguise. In Dutch, we have a saying: “a donkey does not hit the same stone twice”. But there are many stones with a slightly different shape or color, and if the donkey only looks out for the exact same type of stone, this sometimes results in a new blue toe. Different stone, same pain.
The interesting thing is that – like big donkeys do – I am becoming more and more attentive in detecting other stones. I have already consciously experienced several times that it is good for me to avoid that pitfall and to leave my comfort zone at a time when I still feel good. And I also try to temporize in time, so that I can consciously rest before I can’t go any further.
I am aware that I will probably spend all my life looking for this kind of balance: comfort and adventure, peace and chaos, … Hopefully I will gradually be able to recognize better and better when I have been surprised. And who knows, one day I might even learn to control myself and cultivate some discipline.
Panta Rhei, so anything is possible.
Time to load up my steel horse again. The horizon is calling.