This is Yves and he’s French. To top it off he has cycled to, through and zigzagged around some 100 countries (we’re still compiling countries and mind boggling stats). He has done this over a thirty odd year career of cycling to, through and zigzagging around countries.
— A Calmness of Mind and Spirit —
I met Yves under serendipitous circumstances at a bicycle shop in Limassol. More on that later.
For Yves, life is cycling. Other bits of life, like work, are but occasional annoyances in which his real life is interrupted by real life while he plans and finances his next trip and return to real life. His real life.
For Yves, life is on a bicycle on the road. Period. It is here that he feels at home, doing what he wants to do and living the life he wants to live.
He wants to travel at a rhythmic pace using his physical energy to keep moving.
I have yet to understand or try to balance accounts on his motivations: be it travel and see the world, a mind body connection in which his mind is most at peace when his body is carrying out its rhythmic physical exertions, a desire to transcend the normal human experience or has he indeed found the normal human experience.
Indeed there is an ethereal force at work here.
Is this, I wondered, eccentric? I have always suspected that eccentricity is the norm, and that there wasn’t enough of it going around.
The most eccentric thing about Yves, I found so far, is his Alcatel mobile phone. I didn’t know Alcatel still made them.
He reads Le Monde everyday, follows the football religiously (big France supporter) and constantly reads and researches destinations, routes and various other logistics.
His lifestyle is an oddity in the eyes of most, but he is an informed, enlightened and well travelled individual who likes cycling and travelling.
In one of our little chats we agreed most people’s lives have too many boundaries. As human beings should (or could) we not be experiencing a much broader range of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual senses than what we are doing?
During the last few days of sharing his journey through Cyprus I have been managed a glimpse of what he, and others, experience on this perpetual trip on the road.
He says it gives him time to appreciate his surroundings, to enjoy, observe and be at one with nature.
The Meditation of Cycling
What I have gathered from him is a habitual calmness of mind and spirit from being where and when you are. When you’re on a bicycle heading from one destination to the other your mind is neither on where you came from nor where you are going.
You are only in one place and time and that is where and when you are at that moment. On the bicycle you are busy. You are working. Pedalling, navigating, working out gears, checking your physical performance for any alterations needed to the rate and gearing in which you are travelling.
You are occupied by and in the moment. The physical efforts and rhythmic movements of pedalling occupy your consciousness and replace that endless stream of mental noise we otherwise live with.
All meditation is rhythmic breathing. And when you’re on a bicycle at a steady pace as you settle in for a long haul your breath automatically goes into a deep rhythm. The mind is stilled, the spirit calmed, and the senses enhanced – with the time and place to enjoy that calmness of being.
You are, in effect, meditating and in a state of calm, centered contentedness. Anything else you want?
And you have time to observe and feel your surroundings. You see every little thing pass by. Observe it, contemplate it and move on to the next thing. It’s almost as though the speed of cycling is around the right speed of the mind to observe, absorb and assimilate.
The speed of a bicycle dictates your progress and arrival time at your destination. You cannot go faster that what your body can deliver and once resigned to that you settle in and enjoy the ride.
Mostly the need for water, less occasionally the need for food and most awkwardly the need to find a suitable tree under which you are not likely to offend if you addressed you natural urge to purge.
Yves has carried over twenty liters of water on some trips like when he crossed the Sahara, going from Morocco to Senegal. That’s along the route the supremely well financed, planned and prepped Paris Dakar race used to take until bandits along the way forced a change of the venerable race.
Birth of a Life on the Road
But Yves did not just arrive in Morrocco and set off. Oh no. Yves had cycled out of his home town of Lyon, zigzagged his way acros
s southern France, Spain then Portugal, ferried across to Morocco and continued on his way south.
Across Morocco and into that vast strange desert land of tall Tuareg tribesmen in flowing blue robes and complex Arabs who speak Berber free Arabic and a thousand kilometres on desert and uncertainty, certain only that that is what his life is. A rhythmic physical option powering his forward momentum and a constant, steady and unending change of scenery.
But Yves did not just arrive in Morocco and set off. Oh no. Yves had cycled out of his home town of Lyon, zigzagged his way across southern France, Spain then Portugal, ferried across to Morocco and continued on his way south.
Neither did his journey end in Senegal. He meandered around several countries in west Africa taking The Gambia, Gabon, crossed the badlands of Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, crossed Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Ghana (where he caught Malaria) then onto the coastal regions of Togo and Cameroon and beyond.
This was part of his West Africa experience – what I understood to be about a six month meander.