Europe 2000

On June 1, 2000, I left America to meet my girlfriend Natalie in Ireland for a tandem bike ride to Israel. I returned to Connecticut on October 22, 2000...alone.

Some background: In the late 90s, I had a very comfortable life with many of the trappings of success... a gorgeous condo, a little money in the bank and many nice material possessions. Yet, I felt choked by my things, as though my life had become about maintaining my stuff and not about living. When Nat and I feel in love, it seemed to me that life on a tandem bike was certain to be a liberating change from a lifestyle that was very comfortable but  keeping me small. So I set-out to liquidate most of my material objects and take up residency with the most beautiful woman on two wheels. While I have never counseled a client to make such a dramatic life change, I have also never been afraid to make big changes in my own life and to use my own experiences as a laboratory for what does (and doesn't) work when people feel stuck in life and long to be free.

 Here’s the story of our adventure. Scroll down for more pictures from the road.

“Have a nice holiday,” people would say as we rode away on our tandem bike.

“We are not on holiday, this is our life!” Natalie and I had moved onto my bike. And as far as either of us could tell, it would be our home for a very long time.

In the summer of 2000, I fell in love with a beautiful woman who fell enough in love with me to agree to a life of tandem biking. We met in Ireland and headed in the general direction of her home in Israel, on the most circuitous route possible. We could stop anywhere we liked for as long as we liked. “Forever” was our time frame.

I sold most of what I owned, including my home of ten years. Since my coaching clients spoke to me by phone each week and international phone rates had become quite reasonable, I could continue to run my business from the bike. With two saddlebags, a little yellow luggage trailer named Edward, a laptop and a cell phone, Natalie and I rode into the sunset. Off we went with no agenda other than to be together and see the world.

In the week before my one-way flight to Dublin, I cleaned out my 2000 square foot condo. I took 94 shirts to goodwill and filled a 10X10X 10 self-storage room with a television, stereo, tools, disassembled platform bed, desk, dresser, some clothes and my three other bikes. Everything else that remained I discarded... enough to fill four dumpsters.

Curbside at the airport, onto the belt went my boxed tandem bike and another box with the luggage trailer and saddlebags. Time stopped as I stood on the curb at Kennedy airport, among the honking limos and shuttle busses, holding just the shoulder bag that mounts on the top of the rack on the back of the bike, big enough to carry my camera, a few inner tubes and a powerbar.

I felt numb, as if everything I owned had burned up in a fire, which I had started. I had gone through every last item squirreled away during the course of my entire life and purged about 80 percent. I had an incredible feeling of lightness. And I simultaneously felt like an idiot, because I suspected that I would soon have to go out and buy it all over again, at prices from this millennium.

If ever I thought that I was my things, I was now 20 percent of the man I once was. At least I still had a great tandem bike and I was in love with the most wonderful woman in the world. Even if we hated riding and decided to rent an apartment in Europe, what could go wrong? We had each other, right?

In Dublin, I set out to assemble our new home, in the courtyard of a Bed & Breakfast, in the rain. It didn’t come out of the box quite as neatly as it went in; the bike shop that packed it left out my front brake cable. A baggage handler must have dropped it on end, bending the rack so it would no longer hold the shoulder bag with the camera, inner tubes and power bar. The new seat that arrived the day before we left, which was supposed to bolt right on the bike, required a hack saw for what became a complicated custom installation. Four days later, I was greasy and still standing out in the rain, trying to mount the fenders and stewing over my first argument ever with Natalie, who had insisted on getting dirty with me. I suppose couples have argued over the design and construction of new homes since the beginning of time, two wheels or not.

When we were finally ready to depart, it took half a day to shoe-horn all our gear back into our saddlebags, which mysteriously got smaller once they crossed the Atlantic. We stuffed our luggage trailer so full that when everything was finally zipped and buttoned-up, I wasn’t sure that our big rig was even going to move.

We slowly rolled our dreadnought out of the B& B courtyard and waved goodbye to our host and hostess, who had so much fun watching our circus that they took photos daily. I imagine those pictures are now on their mantle and the topic of discussion over many a morning scone and cup of tea. “What on earth is that,” I could hear the other guest saying? And I imagine each of the innkeepers just smiling, ear to ear.

Did I mention that our tandem bike was a recumbent? It’s a wonderful design that allows the riders to sit back and relax as if in a living room reclining chair, in front of a TV. And your butt never hurts. Unfortunately, when you load a ten-foot long recumbent tandem bike with 35 pounds of saddlebags and a three-foot long 40-pound luggage trailer and then point it up a steep Irish hill, everything else hurts!

That first day, we rode to the outskirts of Dublin on a joyous victory ride. I think both Nat and I were equally amazed that our big rig actually rolled. The feeling of freedom is indelibly burned in my memory. We glided along with everything so neatly stowed on our pedal powered motor home. We were doing it. Natalie had flown all the way from Israel and I had come all the way from New York and now we were actually living on our bike. Then, about two hours into our lifetime journey of cycling cohabitation, we ran into the Wicklow hills. We got about 100 yards up the hill and ground to a halt. In spite of all my wonderful preplanning, I neglected to realize that our new 24-speed home wouldn’t go up hills.

There are a lot of hills in Ireland.

We pushed the bike upward in silence, each one of us wondering how this was going to work. Yes, we had enough gear and tools and spare parts to live on this bike. We had the communication equipment to run a small business from our two-wheeled home. But if it wouldn’t go up a hill, how on earth were going to make it through the day, let alone make it to Israel?

We walked into the first driveway on our inaugural climb to catch our breath, tired from just pushing our behemoth. When the man who owned the house where we stopped finished laughing at our unusual contraption and our even more unusual story, he told us we would never make it the hostel which was at the top of the hill, 8 or 12 or 18 miles straight up. I really can’t remember how far it was. But I do remember that we couldn’t see the summit  and that meant there was no way we were going to get there under our own power. He suggested that we turn around and head back to Dublin, which seemed like a horribly disgraceful way to end our first day.

I’m assuming that our expressions are what prompted him to offer a ride to the top of the hill in the back of his dump truck, which held me, the bike and the trailer quite nicely. I let Natalie ride in the cab, although I don’t think I had much choice. Our mobile home was completely my idea. Come to think of it, never once had she said to me, “now that we’ve fallen in love, let’s move onto a tandem recumbent bike.” 

I sat in the cold and hard steel dumper facing rearward, wondering if this was an omen of things to come. I clung to the side of the truck with one hand and our bike with the other, as we climbed through the switchbacks and Dublin disappeared below. My blank expression was interrupted only by the smell of manure, which I realized was the last cargo to grace this taxi.

The smell was quickly overshadowed by my joy as I watched that hill flash past. The dump truck labored in low gear and every precious inch we climbed was one that we did not have to pedal (or walk). Maybe it would be cold enough at the top that we could put on all our clothes and lighten our load sufficiently so that we could actually pedal once again.

Fortunately, it was flat at the top and an easy ride to the hostel. As we unloaded the bike to head on our way, our dump truck driver informed us that there was no place to buy food at the hostel and he assumed that our trailer was full of food. When we showed him that there was nothing edible in said trailer, he gave us a bag of day-old croissants and headed back down the hill, with a photo of us in his camera that probably still makes a lot of people in his neighborhood smile. (I'm proud to say that on our entire three-month journey, that was the only time our rig needed a ride.)

Suffice it to say that I was scoring plenty of points with my soulmate. I had asked her to meet me in a foreign country with a climate somewhat less attractive than the beach weather back home in Tel Aviv. On June 6th in Ireland, it was a wet 50 degrees, with a wind chill of about 40. For our first dinner on the road, we each had two stale croissants after a romantic ride in a manure truck.

The next day we did have a nice ride, even though Natalie didn’t talk to me. “Are you still back there,” I would ask? I had to adjust my mirror so I could see if Natalie had jumped off and made a run for the airport.

It rained for six of the next seven days.

We emptied out our saddlebags and trailer each night as we crawled through the Irish countryside. Everything came under scrutiny. Any tool that could be improvised or borrowed from a gas station, any garment that was duplicated, a few bungee cords we didn’t need and several inner tubes…we shipped it all home. By the seventh day, we had shed about 15 pounds. And Nat and I were getting stronger. Now we were able to ride up to 40 miles in a day.

As we traveled west, we stumbled into all kinds of adventures, and it started to be fun, not just for me, but for Natalie too. We met travelers from all over the world in youth hostels, where we cooked giant communal pots of pasta and told stories from the road. Someone inevitably had a guitar and we would sing Simon and Garfunkel’s “the Boxer” well into the night, as the rain fell outside.

We eventually made it to the West Coast of Ireland. It took us two months to cover the terrain that our Ireland bicycling book seemed to think could be ridden in just a week. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The pace was perfect for savoring the infinite shades of green that line Irish roadsides. Without all my stuff distracting me on the other side of the Atlantic, I saw greens like never before. As the sun came out and summer finally arrived in Ireland, we boxed everything up and flew to Holland, where we figured flat terrain would be easier on our legs... and on our relationship.

Holland is the perfect place for a romantic bike trip, but I am afraid that to chain myself to my soulmate and make a tandem bike home was the undoing of our love affair. Beautiful Natalie and I were through. What had started as a new mobile home for lovers had become a mechanism to destroy a romance (or it accelerated our discovery that we were not meant to spend our lives together).

After three months living on our bike, Natalie headed home to Israel and I put the tandem and trailer in a new Dutch friend’s garage and headed south to France on a used single recumbent bike I bought for $400 in Amsterdam. The moral of the story: if you ever decide you want to make your bike your home, do it alone. (Or if you must go with your soulmate, by all means, take separate bikes!)

June 2000 - Ireland

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