Of snails and celestial beings.
Once or twice in a lifetime, if you are fortunate, you come into the presence of a human being who seems to possess, with such grace and ease, the attributes of a celestial being… non-judgemental, compassionate, intelligent, humorous, respectful, endowed with infinite optimism and joie de vivre and the ability to make everyone feel theyâ€™re worth more than a billion dollars. One of the 2008 OE riders, Neil van Steenbergen, is one such rare being. And for the past 18 days we were indeed a fortunate and privileged group. His free spirited, curious and enthusiastic approach to living seems to be his secret to ensuring that every moment of every day is an adventure. And every adventure has a story. At 81 years old, with many wise and wonderful stories to share, he is inspiration and joy personified. Neil had an accident on the road yesterday just outside Passau, Germany, and is sadly unable to continue with us onto Istanbul. A few days ago, we asked him if heâ€™d share his impressions with us on his journey so far…. his thoughts follow on from this. We miss him and his smile … and wish him â€˜au revoirâ€™, a speedy recovery and many, many more glorious adventures.
Vignettes – Paris to Istanbul. By Neil van Steenbergen.
15 June 2008
About 20 k out of Chaumont on Rainy Day Five in France, a young snail crawled onto the top of my handle bars and seemed quite content to be an observer for a while. After a bit I gently picked him off and dropped him in the grass by the road, having no idea why I assumed that snail was a male. I knew it was one of the hoard of snails and slugs on my tent and bike after two wet days of camping in Chaumont. I was happy. So, I think, was my travelling handlebar partner.
I smile a lot on this 50 day 4000 km ride from Paris to Istanbul. That playfulness of riding my bike with our group on June 1st â€“ the best deal Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Seine River, Arc de Triomphe and then getting totally, absolutely lost between Paris and Provins. We had been cautioned about being occasionally lost â€“ but to get lost before lunch on Day One takes some sort of prize which I still havenâ€™t collected!
There is an ease about this group. A genuine support and acceptance, a rhythm and flow. We seem to like each other. The staff is extraordinary. Iâ€™ve made some friends here that will be lifelong. And I smile.
Itâ€™s rained a lot. Tents are wet almost every morning and itâ€™s not that big a deal. The country side is magnificent â€“ red poppies, farms and fields, champagne country in France, picturesque villages, some with maypoles to dance around.
A major day of rain riding into a wet field in Xertigny, a small town in eastern France, Duncan performs miracles and gets us inside accommodation inside a town hall where we canâ€™t wear muddy shoes because of a big party the next night and the floor has just been waxed. So we hang wet tents around the edges and have a kind of slumber party.
After falling off unstable three -legged camp stools at meals two days in a row, I was a recipient of a four legged camp chair with a back and it is heavenly. The staff got three other comparable chairs for the three other oldest riders. Everybody knows Iâ€™m really responsible for this largesse and I take full credit and offer to rent my chair out occasionally.
I smile a lot. I talk with people â€“ staff, riders and locals. Theresa, a white South African staff woman, and I talked this morning about some of the results of years of apartheid in South Africa â€“ the rage and feelings of entitlement on the part of many black South Africans (â€œWe want no less than an apologyâ€) and the resistance and defensiveness on the part of many white South Africans (â€œWe didnâ€™t do it. It was before our timeâ€) reminds me of the work on white privilege that I am doing in Oregon.
I am sitting on the steps of the great church in Regensburg, Germany, writing in the sun and watching people on the Dom Plaz take pictures of me. I suppose they may want the Dom in the background as well.
I smile a lot. I am in exactly the right place in my life. Life is good. And I am content.