Has been a while hasn't it? My appollogies, but it seems that paradise is lacking internet connection. Also, once again I am on a French computer with no English spell check, so please excuse any typos.
Where did we leave off, ah yes, travelling with a band called The Caliope Of The Future to Brugge, the starting point of a bicycle caravan to Italy for the G8.
I stayed in Brugge for about six days in a forest occupation called Lappersfort. A forest occupation is basically a group of people who live in a forest to prevent it from being destroyed. The Lappersfort camp has been occupying this particular forest in Belgium since October of 2008 in order to prevent it from being clearcut, in order to make another industrial complex for a corporation called Fabricom. Currently, there is more land in Belgium that is now industrial complex territory than there is of actual forest; naturaly many locals are concerned and motivated to preserve the little natural land that they have left.
Being a temporary resident at Lappersfort was nothing short of a dream come true for me. The place itself is breathtakingly beautiful and the people there are insatiably dedicated to the preservatrion of the land, animals, and plantlife that currently reside there. The members of Lappersfort are responsible for organizing this bicycle caravan, which I am currently a part of, and so the occupation itself was used as a meeting place for all of those spearheading the trip. I came a few days before the day of take off, so I had the opportunity to live alongside the residents here, fixing up bikes and exploring the camp.
There are treehouses which have been constructed throughout the canopy of the forest, I do not know exactly how many but I would estimate at least a dozen. Some are the size of small houses, all have full size beds and are completely sheltered and insulated from the elements. In order to protect the trees, none have been constructed using nails, but rather lashings of rope which are soft on the bark and can be completely removed, leaving not a trace of evidence that they were there at all (which is exactly what will happen once the camp has served its purpose).
Each night when it was time for bed I would put on a climbing harness, tie a prusec knot and slip my foot in, and begin the 60 foot ascent to my bed for the evening. This took some getting used to, but luckily due to lots of rockclimbing experience, it was not long before I was able to do this in under five minutes, seven in heavy rain. Sleeping 60 feet off of the ground is an amazing experience, as the wind literaly rocks you to sleep, swaying the tree to and fro. Each morning I would sit atop the tree canopy and enjoy the sun rise over Brugge, which I could see from two miles away. Then I would slip the rope into a figure-eight, hop off of the house, and repel down to the earth in all of four seconds. Who needs coffee in the morning after that?
The camp is filled with splendid people from all over the world, all with their own talents, idiosynchrasies, and different types of humor. This was a great opportunity to share stories, games, and skills. We would have knot tying workshops, juggling sessions, they have an extensive bike workshop on the ground, had I stayed a day longer I would have had the opportunity to learn to weld (although I am sure this opportunity will arise more throughout the trip). There is one English fellow (very English) who has more than a slight obsession with making perfectly golden-crisp fish and chips in a vat of oil over open fire, an obsession which I encourage greatly. Each night we would sit around the campfire and make dinner consisting of skipped food and indiginous plants that we picked that day.
You know Nettles? Those trecherous little stinging plants... they really aren't too bad once you get used to them. They are even quite beneficial for you blood circulation, and you can even eat them if you throw them in boiling water for a few seconds. As far as nutritional value goes, they are on par with spinach. They surround the camp and have been a staple on the ride as well, you can make everything from salads, soups, teas, and tinctures. One of the caravan mates even recomends an annual nettle bath:
"yeah man, just get naked and roll arround in a thick patch of them for a few seconds, that's all it takes."
"AHH! Doesn't the toxin get you high?"
"Sure man, that's half the fun. You kind of buzz for about twelve hours and trip a little. It starts on the skin and then it really gets your heart going. It's a brilliant cure for arthritus as well, sometimes I just sweep my hands through fields of Nettles. I wouldn't recomend a full on bath more than once a year though, I am not quite sure what the prolonged effects are."
"You're fucking crazy, you know that?"
... later on the bicycle caravan I had the extremely interesting opportunity of watching a few of my riding buddies take a nettle bath before we all went skinny dipping in a nearby stream. I was not up for it that eveing, but maybe one day. Who knows... I'll try anything twice.
Travelling with Tovio and Kayne from The Caliope of the Future has been an experience itself, each of them are extraordinarily tallented and have been skill-sharing as we move from town to town. Tovio has studied traditional Capoeira Angola for over a decade and has been giving me mini tutor lessons whenever we come across a green piece of grass; quite a blessing, as he is a great teacher and I have really missed playing these past few months. Plus I am able to explore Angola, a style and history that I have always been fascinated with but hardly exposed to in school. We have also been playing quite a bit of footbag, walking slacklines, and I am finaly learning to juggle. I am actually starting to get the hang of three clubs, though I still wish I had brought my diabolo from the states. Kayne and Tovio are fantastic performers as well; I had the opportunity to see them perform at a squat in Bruxxels called Puma one afternoon. They are each Velophiles, they provide good company in each bike workshop we stop in, we all tend to gravitate to the garages almost immediately. And between the two of them, they know more languages than I can count on my hand, Kayne has been helping me with my french as we ride down long roads that seem not to end.
We set off from Brugge on the first of the month and quite a bit has happened since then. The days tend to blend into one another, dates, times, and days of the week slip from conciousness and relevence when you are on the road. You simply start measuring time by the amount of sunlight left, and like a child on endless summer vacation, forget all esle regarding traditional calendars.
Compared to the pace at which I usually travel, the caravan travels VERRRRRY slowly, on average about 50 Km a day (a little more than the distance between Raleigh and Chapel Hill but with more hills). To give you an idea of this difference, Kayne and I decided to ride ahead of the group a few days ago to reach Dijon ahead of schedule. We set off at seven in the morning, and arrived at seven in the evening the next day. We rode 240 km (a little more than the distance between Raleigh and Charlotte but with more hills) with two-hour lunchbreaks and a lengthy nights sleep. Not bad for two kids on a fixed gear and a tall bike. But with 13 people in a caravan the odds of a bike breaking down increase exponentially (especially when all the bikes have been skipped, scavenged, and completely homemade). There are also quite a few new riders and some with quite a bit of stuff that they are carrying (guitars, juggling gear, cookwear, xylophones, clothes, etc...). I must say though, overall I am quite impressed with the group as a whole, everyone has eachothers back, the newer riders are perservering very well, and the assortment of bikes that people are riding (including trailors) is a spectacle that will turn anyone's head (for those of you who know Vicky Grube, she would fit in perfectly with this group). And so long as I am able to stretch my legs occasionally and speed up once in a while, I certainly do not mind the slower pace. Riding with a group is alot of fun, especially this one.
We have lost one rider, who may or may not rejoin the group when he is feeling up to par: Tovio from the Caliope of the Future has tendonitis and had to split off from us in Liege. So we are one good friend and one tall bike down, but hopefully it will not be long before he is feeling better and we meet again as I miss him quite a bit already. After one long day of riding he was not able to pedal anymore and walked the last 33 Km, arriving at the squat at 5 am the next morning, with tendonitis: badass.
memorable skips include: 7 750ml bottles of top quality Belgian beer, Gourmet Belgian Chocolate, a full wheel of brie, caviar, bottles of wine
We spend almost no money while on the road. We skip every chance we get and recieve quite a few donations from generous and curious shop owners along the way. When we stop into towns in Belgium which famous belgian beers are named after, we almost always find a small pub willing to donate beers to the group: Orval was by far the best. We have one guy with us with a particullarly cute and sympathetic face. He is notorious for recieving more donations than any girlscout I have ever come across. He has gotten us more bags of bread, bottles of beer, plates of chips, and even bike parts from local shop owners who, after taking one look at him, just want to give us anything to help us out... the tall bikes help too.
One of the best things about riding alot everyday, is that you can eat anything and still not gain weight. I easily eat 4500 to 5000 calories everyday of all the important food groups: fat, sugar, chocolate, bread, and alcohol. Of course protien and veg is important too, but we usually save those for the evenings when we have a campfire to cook on.
Camping on the road is great (of course it has its hard times as well, there is still frost some nights, and one morning I woke up covered in ticks and leaches, but overall it is fantastic). We swim when we can, have a bonfire everynight with a good dinner and beer. Each morning we have a full breakfast with coffee and tea. One night we had some open space on a farm and all of those who have experience juggling fire brought out the torches, poi, and fuel and gave a half-hour performance for everyone else. There are some truly marvelous jugglers in this group and for sure the best fire-poi artist that I have ever seen. Certainly not a bad way to celebrate a long days ride (and a great resource for picking up more street performing tricks to turn a few euro later on down the road).
I am staying at in Dijon (the squat is called Les Tanneries. As the name implies it is an old leather making factory, ironically now with a vegan kitchen, as well as lots of other fun stuff to play with, and more incredible people to meet). Last night there was a concert here, I had the extreme pleasure of hanging out with, and seeing the performance of, Defiance Ohio (http://defianceohio.terrorware.com/) as well as a girl whom I only know as Madeline (but you can see her play here http://www.ifyoumakeit.com/category/pink-couch-sessions). I am sure many of you already know these artists, but if you don't check them out because they have some really kickass folk.
Well it is a long entry, but it has been a while. I will try to update as often as I have internet connection, but right now the group just cought up to Kayne and I and are walking in through the door of the squat as I type this. So for now I must say goodbye.
The group likes to play word games and tell riddles while on the road, so I will leave you with one: There is a little red block in the middle of the road. There are houses and a car. If you run into the little red block you owe someone alot of money. What is the little red block? You can ask yes or no questions only, but I was able to figure it out without asking any, so give it a shot.
PS- The boy with the cute face just told me that on the way here he was talking to a pizza shop owner. He told the owner that everyone was on the way to Italy, but before they got there they would like to try the wonderful pizzas that France had to offer. The owner gladly gave him two large pizzas and a bottle of wine fore the group to split.