The purpose of biking


Suddenly we were sitting on my mom’s couch.


Going from dirty, crazy roads in Conackry, where people were burning their trash everywhere, to a brand clean Dutch kitchen and a luxurious piece of pie. A huge step with only a six hour flight.


In June I wrote an article in Dutch on how and why we travel, and the difficulties we meet that sometimes make us change our plans. And how changing plans is a difficulty in itself. I am never very good at reproducing something I have written before, but I will try to give an impression in English on the development of this travel.


In Guinee Antoine and I were suddenly confronted with all kinds of difficulties. The heat, the horseflies and the lack of everything that we consider normal made it challengeing to keep enjoying the travels. We had already been enjoying the side effects of the Malaria medication for months now. Every time we managed to get over a dip and continue with renewed energy. However, it took more and more effort. The fun level was goining down. I was simply too curious for each next experience to just give up.
After spending two days in the most luxurious hotel of Labe,in Guinee (African hut with bathroom), we finally took out the map of Africa and dived into the complexity of climat, politics and distance. To continue from Guinee we had to either face the tremendous heat of Mali in May or the doubtfully political and rebellious situation of Ivory coast. On top of that the rain season was arriving. After some puzzling we came up with the perfect plan. Biking to Sierra Leone, taking an airplane to Uganda and continuing from there. Sounded good to us, all we needed now was to get some information on ticket prices.
This was a problem. If there is no electricity, there is no internet or even telephone. We did the only thing we reasonably could do. We biked straight to the airport, 400 kilometers down the road. Not that this was at all helpful. At the Conackry airport there are no computers and no people with any knowledge on the sales of tickets. Bagage labels are handwritten and all that people are interested in is how to charge you as much as possible for anything. In the center of town we were able to get some information and after four days of hard work we had airplane tickets in our hands. Tickets to Brussels actually, because flying directly to east Africa was much more expensive than flying via Europe. Taking a flight from Sierra Leone would cost us an extra 400$. The decision had been made. We were going to fly back to Europe, think one week about how to continue the trip and book tickets back to Africa.
After a week of thinking (read running across Holland, trying to see all our friends) we booked tickets for Uganda. Without sitting on the couch and quietly think and talking at all.


We could start the preparations for this part of the trip. Why more preparations? Weren’t we already travelling? We had to get rid of inches of black junk in, on and under our stove. We needed to wash our clothing about 25 times to get rid of undefinable black stuff, sahara sand and undesirable smells. Antoine needed to heal from a sore back and I from a longterm infected eye and our website needed to be upgraded. The upgrade was an important and complicated job and unfortunally unsuccessful. Meanwhile we celebrated Antoine’s birthday and gave a couple presentations to support the project in Nepal. Little by little my head started spinning.


Finally we sat quietly down on the couch. What are we actually trying to do?


Obviously I was not happy. Whether it was because of the Lariam or the huge amount of work that we suddenly had to deal with, or maybe Africa-impressions that I was still working out, I don’t know. I just could not handle it anymore. I felt like a fool; how can one get overworked from travelling? Anyhow, flying back into the jungle of Africa was obviously not so smart.
Meanwhile Antoine’s world was completely turned upside down. Biking through the Sahara desert to west Africa. Continueing from east Africa. All of a sudden via Europe. Back to Africa. Not back to Africa. “This is a big joke, not a world trip”, according to Antoine. He realized that we did not really have a choice at the moment, but he had a very hard time with it.
I had to start looking inside myself. What did I do wrong? Why did I not enjoy travelling? What should I change and why was I travelling in the first place? It sounds strange to start thinking about these questions, six months after departure. I actually thought that I already knew. I travel to meet different people and different cultures, but especially myself. To enjoy life, to learn to live in the present. Why was I not succesful in reaching my goals? Slowly I started realizing that I might have had these ambitions, but that I had let go of them during the trip. I had replaced them with other goals. I had addopted Antoine’s travel goals. I walked away from myself. Suddenly I understood why I felt unhappy during such a wonderful journey.
Antoine and I had a lot to talk about. Not only did we have to discuss the practical issues concerning the continuation of our trip, we had to talk about the motives for travelling. What do we want and what is important? Were we fooling ourselves? For Antoine these were and are shocking conversations. We have always easily agreed on everything. Now we are sometimes thinking black and white. It seemed to him that suddenly I had a completely different view on the journey.
That is what it came down to. To reach my goal of being able to live here and now, without looking back or too much into the future, I can not travel with a clear geographical goal or be stuck to time limits. To meet people and different cultures, I do not necessarily need to travel from A to B, going in a circle would be just as fine. Everything that Antoine had been looking forward to for years, was suddenly not so sure. I had fooled him. I had fooled myself.
Physically all the stress I had built up in Africa came out. I was tired, had an infected eye for many weeks and could not stop shaking from time to time. Every conversation though made me feel better, lighter. As if I had found a piece of myself back within our thoughts.
Antoine had replace the Africa-goal with biking to the North cape, something I had suggested myself. Now he needed to let go of that goal as well. I wanted to just leave and see where the wind would push us. That is hard. Every day that is hard. Every day we struggle with deeply rooted internal needs, with our different needs during this journey. When we think we have it down, something new shows up into our spirit, either in mine or in Antoine’s. We left for Skandinavia and have now made it to Sweden. Biking in these northern parts of Europe gives us time to talk, time to think. Because the society is familiar, we have peace and even a feeling of holiday. I enjoy biking again.


Biking with absolutely no goal is not reasonable and not necessary. To me it is important that when circumstances force us to change plans, we can still aprreciate what we have done and not just regret what we have missed. That we are not stuck in our goals and get unhappy over it.
The trip teaches us to get to know each other and ourselves. If we want to continue we will have to face it, whether we like it or not. Flexibility is our motto in this. We can handle a lot, but we have to stay close to ourselves and keep recognizing our needs and our bounderies. These life changing questions are the true travel experiences.


Sitting on my mom’s couch can be very useful to figure some things out, but to really learn about life, we love to travel.

2 Reactions to: “The purpose of biking”

  1. 1 sabine macwaters

    ok, Chantal,
    now twice in ten minutes I have tears of love and admiration on my face: first I read Antoine’s exposition of himself, now your own. How I respect you!!! My heart is with you both, all the time, in your efforts. I want to way congratulations, but it sounds so Patronizing, so that’s not the word. I guess I can only offer you my love and support, as you both keep learning things I hope I will too some day.
    Safe travels, and sweat a little for me when the going gets hard, ok?

  2. 2 Marian Febvre

    Dear Chantal, well, like Sabine, hello to you also.
    Your reflections feel so deep, honest, and important. These are life lessons that are truly profound and difficult to learn. You have my respect and love as you work this through for yourself, as well as for the two of you together as a couple. I admire your ability to write about your thoughts and feelings and inner searches, and really appreciate your willingness to rewrite them in English for us also so we can know you more.
    Thank you for talking to us about your “purpose for biking” which gives me pause to reflect about my “purpose for anything I do everyday”.
    Love to you, as always,

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