What have I learnt from the tour?

As my month of sunkissed, intense Ecotopia draws to a close, I’ve found myself wondering: have I changed as a person? For better, for worse?

The more I wonder, the clearer the answer: yes, Sam, of course you’ve changed for the better, Now you have a deep, hot, glowing tan. A tan over the forearms, and even on the underside of the forearms. A tan on the back, and the deepest bronze cresting your shoulders. A sunkissed head, neck, ears, nose, forehead, chin and cheeks. Even my enormous heart now appears more golden.

And also my entire legs, because I cycled almost every day in one of two pairs of boxer shorts that I brought, without shorts. Why? Well, why not?

The voluntary reduction of production and consumption is, in a word, degrowth. When degrowth is mentioned, our ears prick up eagerly to begin a nuanced debate about society and resource use. There is perhaps only one thing that gets us more excited. Showers. When degrowth is mentioned, we look up to offer a rebuttal of a neoliberal position. But when a shower is mentioned, almost any member of the tour will spring violently up from sitting to standing  (they will even get up out of the precious hammock space) and – in one case – even make a marriage proposal to the person offering the shower.

But let me say something unpopular: we’re not having too few showers on the bike tour, but too many. Look at it this way. At every circle, we agree to leave early, at 8am, but we often end up leaving around 10, forcing us towards a gruelling slog under the midday heat. Now consider the following example, proving that a fewer showers means leaving earlier.

Waking up after a night under the stars, I yawned innocently, stretching my curled hands, arms and armpits lazily up and out of my sleeping bag to greet the crisp new day. Next to me, Natascha, clearly exhausted, gasped and sputtered into life: “Oh my god Sam, I can smell you from here.” You could almost sense the cogs whirring during the split second before Natascha leapt away like lightning from the sleeping group: “I feel like getting up more or less around nowish.” This resulted in an earlier breakfast and an early departure than ensured we could spend midday in a well-deserved siesta, and cycle outside the midday sun.

So I will leave the tour golden tanned and with irresistible methods of motivation under my belt. Not bad.

With so many members having grown up in countries all over Europe, and some from further afield, the only common language of the bike tour is not English, but questionable hygiene. And without meaning to sound arrogant, I think I’ve shown that I’m pretty fluent.

Some members of the tour have struggled with our official common language, English. The first time Xavier, a member from Barcelona, invited his English-speaking friend back to his flat, he waited worriedly on the doorstep without opening the door. The awkwardness was gut-wrenching as Xavier’s hands were fumbling in his pockets, his eyes unsure but expectant and his nervousness clear as he misprounced “keys”, saying aloud to his friend, “where ees my keess?”.

There have been varying degrees of patriotism and internationalism among us. Four of us rewarded our tiring Pyrenees entry into France with some gorgeous,   ripe blackberries bursting with juice. As we playfully flicked these sweet luscious berries into our mouths, a bike tour member from France said: “Look! The weather, the bread, and now look: even the blackberries are better in France”. “Thank you”, “thank you for your wisdom”, we crowed in reply, “please tell us more”.

So a love of patriotism joins a sunkissed tan and irresistible methods of motivation as what I’ve gained from the tour.

As the bike tour draws to a close and we finish the itinerary of inspiring growing projects in Spain, France, and Italy, you might wonder: “how can I visit more inspiring smallholdings, permaculture projects and community growing projects?”. For free volunteering opportunities at radical UK growing projects, visit wwolfing.wordpress.com.


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