Some Final Reflections on the Ride to the Orient
On July 9th, nine riders lined up together, with the Eiffel Tower dividing the sky behind them, to commence their 5 week long bike ride ending in Varna on the Black Sea. Emotions were mixed, most of them never having ridden so far in their life, there was a tinge of nervousness, especially leaving through the busier streets of Paris. But there was also much excitement, for the sight and sounds and tastes waiting to be taken in, for the cultures and rich history awaiting to be explored , and for the bonds and friendships that would be made along the way.
The 2017 Orient Express has seen some of the smallest participant numbers for a TDA tour, but luckily that number was just enough to make the tour a guaranteed departure. However the small group number brought forth questions about what the social dynamics on tour would be like. With less people to connect with, would everyone get along, would there be anyone left out, and how would the cycling abilities and trip expectations of the participants compare? On August 20th, on the shore of the Black Sea, the answers to all those questions were resoundingly positive. Though all the characters of the, one could say, colourful group, turned out to actually be quite different in their life experiences, their cycling abilities and their expectations for the trip, the camaraderie that emerged throughout the journey was inspiring and at times even touching.
If there’s one thing to be learned from numerous TDA experiences , it’s that adversity has a strange way of sometimes tearing people apart and sometimes bringing them together, and rarely can you predict which one will happen. The two adversaries on this trip were certainly the weather and, for a large part of the route, the complex navigation. The weather jumped from one extreme to another. From the word go we were pelted with rainstorm after rainstorm for literally half the trip only to emerge into record breaking heat waves in Hungary and Romania which left people exhausted and dehydrated at the end of the sometimes very long riding days. It was great to see that a good sense of humor persisted throughout, and though there were many wet and soggy camping nights, that people managed to keep laughing and smiling and cheering each other on. The renowned bike paths along the Danube provided a car free, and incredibly scenic route across Germany and Austria, but many times also left riders scratching their heads and wondering which way to head through the maze of paths and country roads. If it was great to see how people kept smiling despite the elements it was touching and endearing to see how they supported each other through the Danube labyrinth. Stronger faster riders often volunteered to wait back with the slower or navigationally challenged ones to see them through the tougher sections of the day.
At the final dinner on the night of finishing day, there were poems, songs and speeches shared by several of the members, there was laughter and joy of course there was an overall sense of relief that the journey was completed. A few were saying how the ending is bitter sweet, that a return to regular life was too soon and too abrupt, and a few even talking about the TDA trips they’re eyeing next, the cross continental cycling bug obviously had bitten. For me and I’m sure for others there were no questions and no doubt left that a small group can be as stimulating and as entertaining as a large one and the memories from this trip remain as some of the fondest from any TDA experience so far. So if you’ve got your eye on a future trip, don’t let a smaller number discourage you from signing up, as the experiences to be gained are as rich and fulfilling regardless.