Greetings from The Netherlands! 11/14/2009Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: boredom, freighter, great lakes, netherlands, seasick, trans atlantic
There’s a lot to be said for the beauty of sea travel, but the words get stuck when you’re trying not to barf.
Only a few of my 25 days on the water were spent curled in the fetal position, cursing the cabbage in my stomach, but they were enough to turn my romantic conceptions of the ocean a pale shade of green.
Still, now that I’ve landed, I like to consider myself only a marginal wimp. In the middle of the North Atlantic the Irma encountered Beaufort 9 conditions, which, jargon aside, means that lying in bed I smashed my face against the wall one moment and tumbled onto the floor the next.
Being a stranger to this phenomenon, I decided my confidence in the vessel would best be restored by doing the funhouse walk across my cabin and lunging at my window to gape at eight-meter waves crashing over the deck rail.
The prospect of drowning without a ripple sat uncomfortably with the sauerkraut and blood pudding jubilee that had been my dinner, so I fastened the curtains and rode out the duration of the storm with eyes squeezed firmly shut, trying to find my happy place.
I never came close – it turns out my happy place looks a lot like land – so I distracted myself with synonym solitaire instead.
Now that it’s over, I can proudly say that not once did I vomit, puke, ralph, upchuck, retch, yack, honk, heave, hurl, charf, spew, chunder, toss cookies, blow chunks or lose my lunch. No calls were made on the flushing phone, no prayers offered to the porcelain gods and I have yet to be named captain of the bowling team. Dream big, I always say.
When the boat wasn’t thrashing about like a couple of teenagers on a waterbed, I found I had plenty of free time on my hands. Enough to finish three puzzles, four novels and more Steven Segal movies than I care to admit.
Then I plundered old newspapers for games sections until finally, bereft of entertainment, I read a sizable chunk of the Bible. Sort of. Before Genesis there was me, trying to teach myself to juggle with three balled up socks – an unmitigated failure on all levels.
After awhile there wasn’t much left to do but stare at the waves and think. Across Superior, Huron, Erie and Ontario, past Montréal and Québec and finally Newfoundland itself, I considered things like why I have no inner monologue when I solve sudoku puzzles, how Moses could possibly climb Mount Sinai in sandals and who painted Steven Segal’s eyes onto his head.
Then I started contemplating my trip. A lot has happened between Inuvik and Rotterdam, enough to make me feel very different, though exactly what has grown or gone since I left in June is difficult to pin down.
The changes aren’t really physical and I sincerely doubt my virtues are now suddenly cast of gold. More likely, the shift has been in perspective alone.
On the ocean I was constantly reminded of how vast the world really is and how I’ll only be able to tread the smallest of paths on it. Now, finally, I’m okay with that. I think travelling is a lot like luck – a little will always be enough.
Hurry up and wait 10/22/2009Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: bus, delay, freighter, great lakes, trans atlantic, winter
Lake Superior looms cold and grey, and even the froth of the waves seems eager to jump to warm land as it laps against the port. The harbour has been socked in with rain and snow for the past several days, which means the longshoremen can’t load the wheat that’s supposed to fill this enormous freighter – the m.v. Irma, 200 meters long, fitted with three cranes and Polish as a block of golka.
I arrived in Duluth last week, having taken the Greyhound from Brandon to make sure I arrived for the ship’s scheduled departure. My bike was boxed beneath the bus and I felt like a huge fraud every time I looked out the window and saw the colours of autumn whizzing by. Minnesota is stunning at this time of year and I really wanted to cycle the highways, but I wasn’t sure I could bike 800 or so miles in only a week. There was no way I was missing my boat. Given the weather, it turns out I would have had almost 10 days to pedal, though I had no way of knowing that beforehand. Oh well.
I’ve resolved it in my brain by promising myself that I’ll bike through the northern states when I eventually make my way home. That way I’m not cheating, just . . . um, delaying. Semantics.
I’ll post a picture of the Irma when I get a chance, but suffice to say it’s already been an interesting experience and we haven’t even left port yet. The crew is entirely Polish and a bit shy, although some speak a bit of broken English. The captain, who reminds me of a wonderful mixture of Michael Gross and Fred Penner, is a hilarious guy who spends our encounters by alternately teasing me and making sure I’m perfectly comfortable.
So far so good. My cabin is bigger, much bigger, than the dorm room I had in university, plus it comes with an attached bathroom. I kind of feel like a fat mess in the shower, however, because I can’t turn around and it takes a Houdini-like effort to raise my arms and wash all of my 2,000 parts. These quarters are so cramped they’re almost squeezed into eighths. But it doesn’t matter. Most of my baths have been in lakes this summer, so the prospect of washing in clean, hot water is one I’m not about to pass up.
The food has been fantastic so far, but the trouble with eating Polish food, to kinda-quote George Miller, is that five or six days later you’re hungry again. We’re talking meat, eggs, meat and eggs, eggs and meat and sometimes bread. I’m trying my best to eat mortal portions, but I suspect I’ll lumber off the boat more than a few pounds heavier than I boarded.
Hopefully the added pounds stack up in the cranium department too. My first day on the ship taught me a stinging lesson about the differences between 220 volt and 120 volt electrical outlets. It turns out the plug adapter I borrowed from my sister did not include a power converter – hardly a problem until my electric razor exploded in my hand and spat fire and soot onto my exposed stomach. I don’t need to go to the Shriner’s Hospital or anything, but I do have an ugly burn and a maimed Remington.
The worst part of all was that I’d only managed to shave half my head before the fireworks started. I had to Bic the rest with a wholly inadequate blade, and though heaven knows my head isn’t that big, the job took me about two hours. It was either that or walk around like a Sex Pistol, but given the disposable razor carnage that litters my bathroom, I’m not sure I would have chosen the same course again. Live and learn.
Minnesota bound! 10/13/2009Posted by mikeonbike in cycling, travel.
Tags: freighter, great lakes, manitoba, netherlands, trans atlantic
I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Brandon, $50 in my pocket and legs covered in rust. I spent the afternoon sanding a lady’s wrought iron patio banister, not because I’m particularly opposed to rust, but because my pants need a bit more jingle before I leave.
The time is drawing near. My freighter leaves Duluth on October 20 and I need to be on it. There are still a million things to do on this side of the Atlantic, not least of which is finding a way to get to the port on such short notice. But it’ll happen, and in one month I’ll be cycling in Europe – Belgium or the Netherlands to be vaguely precise.
Getting there . . .