Because we’re traveling (almost) every day, we encounter many people along the way. This may seem obvious, but these interactions are a significant part of our journey, as they can have a major influence on how we feel ourselves, or how we feel about a region or type of traveller – something we wouldn’t feel as strongly if we were to (shortly) travel to from A to destination B and back again. As we meet many people along the way, we ourselves have a small set of guidelines. These would be: always greet a fellow bike traveller; greet back cyclists/people who greet us; be considerate to others, and in nasty situations, let our feelings be known too… These guidelines are enough for most situations, but even though we have cycled through a few countries so far, we already have felt the (social) differences and their effect on us.
Always greeting other bike travellers seems to be natural for us and it gives motivation and a nice feeling when you meet another traveller. Near Koblenz for example, we were biking in the rain, but at least we had the wind in our favour. However, we were greeted with such enthusiasm by cyclists coming from the other way (who had the rain ánd were up against the wind), that we could only feel encouraged by them. Hence it also gives a strange feeling when you meet fellow cyclists who don’t greet. Especially near the region of Basel we met several travellers during the day, but none of them greeted in any way. It felt very distant to cycle there, and the first one to say hi again felt as a huge relief. Sometimes it also comes as a relief to finally see a fellow cyclist after a period of cycling alone. Near Sagogn for example, we saw two cycling up another hill, but all four of us were waving fanatically to each other from a distance, happy to see there are more crazy people to cycle there.
We of course greet not only fellow cycling travellers, but also others who we meet along the way, though we usually let it depend on them. Here in Italy for example, almost every speed cyclist greets us, so now we greet them too by standard. This is different from what we’re used to in the Netherlands where we don’t greet each other, as usually speed cyclists are not happy with bulky and slower cyclists like us. Thus, it’s very nice to see there can be friendly folk in Lycra too. In Covolo (Italy), a cyclist even cycled without hands so he could give us an applause and a thumbs up, and he couldn’t have come at a better time as we were at our physical limit (we passed the 100 km that day). Needless to say we greeted him back with much enthusiasm.
Sometimes however, there is a strange lack of interaction. When we entered Switzerland for example, we felt very awkward as people just stared at us and did not even reply our greetings. We therefore had the feeling people looked a bit down on us (maybe for not travelling by car), and it also made us insecure to ask people for help. Also here in Italy, Geart is a bit disappointed that – so far – nobody has started a conversation during our breaks, which we often did have in Germany and the Netherlands; people enthusiastically asking where we’re from or what our plans are.
Sometimes people also come over to not just ask us what we’re doing, but see that we can use a bit of help. In the short time we were in France for example, we had a very nice car driver who stopped when we were looking for our route, and in ten minutes explained (in French) to us in detail how to cycle the next 25 (!) kilometres. We (with a minimum amount of French understanding) only realised afterwards how much he had told us when we kept recognising markers he had mentioned.
Unfortunately, the French car driver was an exception to the rule. Because if there is one category person that is frustrating for us however, the clear winner is the car driver. When we cycle on the regular roads, we encounter many careless drivers. Especially now in Italy, we get honked at very often for being there, but even worse is when they drive as if we’re not even there, putting us in a dangerous position. Also in Switzerland we had our fair share of problems with them, though the summit was the Ofenpass, where many car drivers (and motor bikers) were driving through as if it were their playground, not taking into consideration other people’s safety nor traffic rules. We were honked at many times for ‘interrupting’ their playful drive, and one driver aggressively cut off Ydwine and braked in front of her so she fell off her bike, just to show her who was in charge. The Ofenpass was therefore a miserable experience, not because of the climbing work, but because of the constant fear and stress of how the next driver will be. On the Ofenpass (and also here in Italy) we therefore have used our last guideline many times; let your negative feelings be known as well. This we do not just to let the car driver know they bring us into danger by their behaviour, but also for ourselves: if we stay silent, it will impact our cycling negatively for holding our emotions in.
Reactions and people differ per day and per region or situation, and luckily we have many positive encounters. On the Julierpass (one day before the Ofenpass) for example, car drivers were very careful and considerate for us two cycling in the pouring rain, even waving and giving thumbs up to encourage us. And when we reached the top, the first thing we heard was a “Bravo!” by a car driver who congratulated us and took a picture. And other situations too, like in Valstagna (Italy) when a man helped Ydwine push up her bike on a steep hill, a woman in a garden waving to us, or a cyclist calling and waving from another road (and the car behind him instantly honking angrily at him for doing so).
Yes, sometimes a situation can be good and bad at the same time. In France Geart was told off by a woman who thought Geart hadn’t greeted her properly (his “bonjour” missed enthusiasm? We don’t know). Though Geart was taken aback with her angry lecture in French, we do have to say her punchline is in line with our view: “hello is the minimum!”