As someone who normally enjoys quite an independent lifestyle, I like the idea of cycle touring because of the self sufficient nature of the pastime. I travel under my own power, on my own schedule, transporting everything I need to survive with me on the bike. I stop when I need to eat or sleep, when I reach a destination of interest or when something falls off the bike. Travelling in this fashion should ensure a minimal impact on my surroundings.
Recently, whilst approaching strangers looking simply for permission to camp on their land for the night, I have been faced with a bewildering array of generous offers, ranging from bottles of beer and flasks of tea in the evening, to coffee and breakfast in the mornings to dried meat, bread and cheese to carry for lunch. I’ve been offered barns, outhouses, spare bedrooms and even an unused campsite chalet to sleep in. I’ve been cajoled off the street to share lunch in a strangers home and fed pizza by my hosts at a stable.
It’s difficult for me to get used to the fact that my interactions with these kind people are so short-lived, most lasting only for one or two conversations before I’m back on the road, and whilst these gestures are enormously appreciated, and the company invaluable for someone on a long, solo voyage, they mount up quickly on my conscience and I can’t help feeling like I’m taking a lot from the people I meet. I’m stretching a fairly tight budget to hopefully do some good, but I’m still aware that I’m privileged to be in the position I’m in and there are a lot of people more deserving of these acts of kindness than me.
I had a lot of people to thank before I left the UK, for all the help and support that made it possible to even get to the start line. I now have dozens more to whom I can’t repay the favour. Dozens more who, often within minutes of meeting me, were willing to offer far more than I could ever reasonably expect.
It begs the question; If I’m struggling with the guilt of accepting peoples’ generosity here in Europe, how will I cope when it continues into areas of the world where people themselves have significantly less?, which I’m sure it will.