The art of being

You know, I’ve got very loud thoughts. They constantly scream for attention and the moment I try to remember what they want to tell me they run off again. It’s a bit like playing hide and seek, but losing most of the time. The best ideas pop up late at night when I am half asleep, and by the time I wake up they have disappeared again. It’s funny to realise there is so much inside that never gets to see the daylight. There is so much I want to create, do, be, discover and achieve, yet I am a slave to a currency created by society. Money, something that can’t feed us and doesn’t put a roof above our head, but we can’t do without. They pay us too much, too little or too late and meanwhile we go to work dreaming of faraway destinations and the world beyond our doorstep. When I wake up in the early morning and feel the sun on my skin my thoughts suddenly stop talking. The world is vast asleep and I am alone. Nobody to love me, nobody to hurt me and nobody to judge me. Slowly I breath out. My heart continues its daily rhythm and I just sit, watch and listen. When I listen close enough I hear the world singing a silent song. A song of hope and a song of fear. Fear of what is being done to it and hope, well, hope is in such cases the only way to survive. We act as if we are disconnected from the nature surrounding us. Life takes place behind closed doors. Silently we get dragged along in an unstoppable current of daily life while all we should do is look up to to see the sunset light the sky on fire and watch the stars appear as darkness announces the end of yet another day.

While riding my bike I put my hands up in the air and sing a song for nobody to hear. I watch my hair shimmer in the sunlight and feel the sun caress my back. Every day I could sit around and wait for the world to change, but the wait could be endless and life is too short to waste time. Life is now. I won’t be able to break the chains of society and I won’t be able to escape life as it is set out, but I can bend the rules and write my own story. I am a woman between many others. Living life in a normal jacket and dreams wrapped away behind a dreamy smile. Life can’t always be extraordinary and crazy. Sometimes it’s peaceful and beautiful and that is enough. Silent and hidden away a new story can grow. A new adventure. An adventure that will carry me around the world and back again. Let’s make it an unforgettable one!

A storm of fear

It was a cold day, a muddy day and a rainy day. It was the first day of my life that I felt raw fear and knew a stupid mistake could be the end. It was the first time in my life that I felt afraid to die.

We left the bothy in the early morning and were greeted by a group of wild deer. While we walked uphill towards them they just kept an eye on us. Only when we were just a few meters away they seemed to realise that we were really heading their way. They ran off, but were quickly stopped by curiosity to watch us walk by. Funny to realise that they watch us as much as we watch them! After crossing the hills, we went back down thinking it was time to meet the biggest challenge of our day: getting across a swamp. How wrong could we have been! It took some caution and some jumping about, but our walking poles were are best friends to guide us along. Not much later the Scottish rain came our way.  Two river crossings and a boggy field later we realised this wasn’t just a drizzle that would pass, but hey, we can handle some proper rain! Or at least, so we thought! We walked along the river into a magnificent little valley while the rain kept hammering down on us. With a big smile hiding in our rain jackets we ate a snack and started climbing and scrambling out of the valley that slowly became one big river bedding. There was no path to be found, but we knew where to go. Up the mountain to head back down the other side. Our hiking gps definitely made life easier that day!  

Rivers that didn’t exist on the map were rumbling down the slopes making us hop about and play twister with a backpack to get across the water. Bogging along, we slowly made our way up. Once we reached the top we thought the worst was over. We hid behind a boulder, poured the water out of our beloved Lundhags boots, ate a snack and started our downhill journey. That’s when the storm really hit us. The wind swept us of our feet and every raindrop felt like ice cutting into our skin. After every burst of wind, we got back up again and hurried further downhill. We knew this wasn’t a good place to be, we had to move. Through the mist we could see rapids and waterfalls appearing on every mountain slope. Water was sweeping the ground while the wind removed everything else that was still standing. Fear hit me. All I could think of was getting out of the hell mother nature was throwing at us. We went straight through rivers, hid from the wind when it howled towards us and kept on going downhill until we came to a sudden stand still seeing what lay in front of us. It was a river that swept away all courage, energy and hope left inside of me. Stormy water roaring down the mountain taking everything along that lay in its way. Crossing didn’t feel like an option, but did we really have a choice? We walked up and down along the violent water looking for a better place to get across, but luck had decided to neglect us that day. Going back up the mountain wasn’t an option and pitching our tent became more of a nightmare every second we stood there in doubt. There was nothing else to do than, one way or another, get across that river. Fearing for the worst, we attached one to another using paracord and Jonas entered into the raging water. Slow and steady he moved across leaning towards the water that was fighting to drag him down. Shaking he reached the other side where he fell to his knees, drained by the adrenaline it had taken him to get across. Now it was my turn. I knew this couldn’t go well. I had seen the water nearly reaching up to his chest and I had seen the power it had. Completely numb I entered into the river. The freezing water made me shiver and the power behind it filled my eyes with fear. Slowly I tried to move my feet, one tiny step at a time till suddenly they got swept downstream and I was dragged along. Before my head disappeared below the surface I remember seeing Jonas and wondering: “Is this really how it ends?”, then silence. Probably just a few seconds later I lay face down in a puddle of water that turned out to be the other side of the river. Thanks to the strong rope Jonas had been able to pull me out.

In tears and shivering all over I got back on my feet. It was only hours later that I felt how bruised the left side of my body was. Jonas cut the rope that was tightly wrapped around me and we started the last leg of that day’s journey. Never before did we move so fast. Moving was the only way to keep us warm. We knew there was another river before we came onto a 4×4 track and we knew there should be a bridge, but until we were sure of this we remained in doubt of how this day would end. Silently we realised that if Jonas had been swept down the river it would have been impossible for me to hold on to him. Suddenly life felt fragile. It was hard to apprehend how a simple hike could turn into an event that challenged our deepest being and could have pulled us apart forever.

Everything ended well, there was a bridge to cross that last river and we reached a bothy to take of our soaked clothes and make tea to help our body temperatures rise again. Now we can say it has been an adventure, an adventure we look back on that gives us goosebumps and an adventure that made my legs tremble during the river crossings that followed the coming days, but an adventure non the less.

An adventure far outside of our comfort zone, but a story that will linger in our minds for a lifetime.

The girl behind the helmet

Seeing a woman on a bike, people at times get the image of a fearless human being who strides forward, head up high, eyes locked on the horizon, knowing exactly what she wants from life. Instead, within the helmet, sits a little girl, curious to the world around her. A girl with crazy ideals and endless dreams. A girl that is often disappointed in the world around her and a girl that believes everything is possible. A girl that refuses to give up. A girl that questions every step she takes and wanders where life will end up taking her. There are moments I feel strong and invincible, but not much later these are followed by loneliness, tears and doubt. I suppose that’s how life goes. Eventually it is the lows that teach us to appreciate the good. Feeling down I sometimes hop on my bike and ride wherever my bike will carry me. I suppose you could say I ride to escape myself, but I would rather say I ride to catch up with myself, to feel, to remember and to be free. Seeing the dust being kicked up by my wheels, feeling my bike move and slither and hearing a silent roar I know I will be fine. We all run from one place to another worrying about the next, yet there is so much to be lived in the present. That’s probably what I love the most about riding my motorbike. It’s all about here and now. Nothing else matters. Whatever the road ahead may be, rivers, rock formations or boggy terrain, you know that one way or another you will get through. There is such a strength in knowing you can combat the road ahead. We are human beings. May it be the best of times or the worst of times, we endure. We get bogged down, we fight our way back up and ultimately we thrive.

Some time ago it felt like I had hit rock bottom. Silently I suffered. I was so tired I got sick of myself. There seemed nobody around who could understand what I was feeling. I kept silent and did what had to be done. I went to work, went to the shops and dropped down on the couch after which I dragged myself to bed and pushed the repeat button. All I needed was some time. Here comes the truth, I am one of the lucky ones. Doing a PhD I have more holiday than most people. I used this chance and took myself a week to enjoy the life I am living. I went camping, rode my bike, watched a movie, cooked some good food, watched the sunset from our hammock on the balcony and smiled. Every day I felt stronger and knew I would be just fine.

Sometimes life is at its best when lived at its basics.

The happiness of being

After 4 fours of commuting going from the place where I was staying to my work in Paris and back again I was honestly frustrated with myself. Why didn’t I just book a place closer by my work? How did I ever think this would be a good idea? Then I opened my window and looked outside. The smell of nature came flying in. Suddenly I remembered, that was exactly why. Instead of exhaust fumes I could smell trees and green grass. Instead of being in a vast forest of cement I was in a little village with cobblestones lining the roads and houses that missed out on modernisation.  Instead of big streets I had a river in front of my window. When I got up at 6 o’clock in the morning I could see mist rising from the water. Silent and peacefully the world would wake up without worrying about time gone by. It made me realise I should do the same. I may only arrive back home late in the evening and it may seem that there is no time left to discover the place, but it’s not about the amount of time. It’s about the quality of it. It doesn’t matter how I spend it, it will slip through my fingers anyway. It’s about the joy it may bring to me. That’s exactly what life should be about. About living and loving every step along the way. After this realisation I enjoyed my early morning bicycle ride to the station, my 40 minute train ride through the forest and into big city life and my walk across the Seine to the metro station. I never learned to enjoy the metro ride though. People squashed together doesn’t seem to do it for me.  

Every evening I sat outside on the windowsill with a cup of thee watching the night sky appear. Days were long and I nights were short, but just sitting there I found peace within myself. Jonas was far away and with no friends close-by to turn to I had only myself to accompany me. With my first big presentation ahead I was often stressed and worried, but at such moments I told myself: “Enjoy the moment and don’t worry about the ones to come. Things always turn out exactly as they should be”. It didn’t take away my stress and frustration, but it made me accept what I could not change. Eventually my presentation went really well. So well I was laughing out loud while riding my bicycle back home that evening. I am glad I don’t know what people who saw me come along were thinking. Actually, it doesn’t really matter. They don’t know me and I will probably never know them. Sometimes it’s good to be a little crazy.

Happiness may not be a constant state of being, but accepting life as it is certainly is a good way to get there.

Writing, riding and big city life

I am ready to write, ready to put thoughts onto paper and create a dance of words. Letters moving around with an inexplicable drive to become one. I used to write stories, now there is silence on paper while stories pile up in my mind. Motorbike adventures, beautiful places, a little boy reaching out to a stranger, political frustrations and an endless urge to live every moment of my life with relentless energy and joy. I suppose much of my silence started with the realisation that at times people are actually reading what I write. My blog used to be my diary of positivity, now the perfectionist in me is scared and self-doubt rules every letter I put on paper. ‘Does it make any sense?’, ‘What the hell am I writing?’ Let’s just stop. Every excuse is a good one. It’s time to change that now.

Today I am forced to stay inside because of the terrible weather and to be honest, my motorcycle riding gear leaks like a sieve. Within 10 minutes I am soaked up to my underwear. I actually like riding through the wind and the rain, it gives me a certain feel of freedom and wild completeness, but not in my current outfit. Of course there is a solution to every problem. Now that I have saved together a little money again I will solve this problem: starting with a motorcycle jacket and trousers I will buy myself a proper piece of motorcycle gear every month. Actually I already have a decent helmet, boots and summer gloves, so I’m not that bad off.

Sadly I will have to miss my motorbike for two weeks as I am heading over to Paris for work. It’s a little scary, but I am also looking forward to it. As I am not that much of a city person I am incredibly happy to have found a place to stay South of Paris and close to a nature reserve. All I will have to do is hop on a train in the morning and it will take me directly to the heart of the city of love. I’ve only really been to Paris once and I can’t say I fell in love with the city. I liked it, but it was still just a big capital with dirt lying around, busy people running from one place to another and tourists taking photographs. Let’s see if it can enchant me this time. I certainly hope so. What I do know for sure is that it will be a whole new experience with a new world opening up to me. When I am on the road alone I am somehow much more aware of the world around me. Small things that happen draw my attention. Every feeling is more intense. Maybe that makes me vulnerable, maybe that makes me strong and maybe it doesn’t really matter as it makes me feel alive. Suddenly I am a nobody to everybody around me. We are always a nobody to somebody, but often don’t like such thoughts. It may sounds strange, but isn’t there beauty in being anonymous? People can’t judge you for who you are, people can’t hurt you and you can become whoever you would like to be. Suddenly you are no longer defined by what you have, how you live or what you do.

When being in a city I love watching people go by and think about the lives they have. Every single person you see has a story, a life, a pain and a reason to smile. It’s a story you’ll never know, yet it is there. Hidden below the surface of anonymity. A closed book only showing its cover. It makes me curious. I want to know people’s stories. I want to know your story. What drives you, what hurts you and what are your dreams? Maybe I’ll never know or maybe we’ll meet one day. Up till that day, let’s embrace life! Dance while there may be a storm coming and share a moment with another nobody.

The ambition of happiness

Saturday, six in the morning and I lie in bed wide awake. Some people may call this frustrating, but I love it. For me being able to get up early in the morning gives me the opportunity to watch the early morning sun with a cup of tea while the world around me is still fast asleep. My phone remains silent and I don’t need to worry about people trying to reach out to me. It’s time to just be me and enjoy the time I have. Maybe even sit down and start writing my blog. During the week I scribble down some words in my notebook while I sit on the train to work, but this just ends up being a patchwork of texts and words representing a small part of who I am. On the one hand I realise how lucky I am, on the other hand I feel lost in a society that dominates life every step along the way. I want to truly feel life, not be numb to the world around me. Nothing makes a day more beautiful than sharing a smile with a stranger and getting a glimpse of a life that isn’t yours. I don’t want television to tell me about the world we live in. We all know they only tell us part of the truth. Of course, all these things are not ambitious. Apparently, to be ambitious you need to aim for the best job, make sure to get a big house and have a life filled with luxury. In these times I think it would be good to reframe this word, ambition. Maybe it would be better to aim for a happy and fulfilled life and call that ambitious. Maybe, ambition shouldn’t be related to money and power. Maybe, being happy with who you are and what you do is truly ambitious. It for sure isn’t an easy thing. It’s a constant battle to look inwards instead of to the world surrounding you. We live in a hard world and the battle for happiness isn’t an easy one. So many people in society fail while giving all they have. Don’t fail. Be ambitious and aim for whatever life feels right for you. People will try to stop you, people may have a good reason to hold you back, but you will never know if you don’t give it a try. Don’t sit back and except what is. Choose for what may be.

The story of a girl gone biker

Starting to ride a motorbike as a girl seems to turn out to be quite the story, a story that started in 2017 with driving lessons as these are obligatory in Belgium. First question: “Have you ever ridden a motorbike before?” I thought by myself, obviously not, that’s exactly why I am here. Luckily, I only said out loud a polite “No, I have not”. Apparently they didn’t have many cases like me who hardly know anything about riding a motorbike. Lesson 1: ride in a straight line and make a turn before you hit the wall at the end of the terrain. No problem with that straight line, but the wall started to come close pretty quickly and that damn bike didn’t want to turn. Or was it actually my first example of object fixation having my eyes locked on the wall ahead?

It was a steep learning curve, but after my first 2 hours I rode slalom, figure eights and they even let this little danger hit the road for the first time. If I am honest I don’t remember getting anywhere above first and second gear. Afterwards I went home happy and proud with some bruises here and there because that bike just liked falling right on top of my leg. Obviously, the bike was all to blame.

During the rest of my driving lessons I broke a clutch leaver, had trouble with a stuck gas cable and got a few close looks at the underground of the driving terrain. That gas cable definitely was the most scary of experiences! Not holding my gas cable anymore, flying through the corner at about 80km/hour and trying to do the emergency deviation anyway with the instructor screaming I should really slow down I finally came to a halt with my front wheel in the bushes. Luckily this experience just ended with me having the privilege to ride the instructors bike back home while he battled my bike along the road.

Despite, or maybe just because all this, I passed my driving tests one week later. Ready to hit the road. Well, I was ready, my bike not really. A couple of months later Jonas, my boyfriend was able to fix up his old bike for me and I was ready to roll. An old, but very cute Yamaha Virago 250 accompanied me during my first 3000 kilometer. Then practice was over as we bought a one-way ticket to India with a year of riding different motorbikes through Asia ahead. I discovered India and Nepal riding a lovely Honda Unicorn. Vietnam and Laos on top of a Honda XR125 and parts of Thailand on a Honda CRF250. A year and 18.000 kilometers later I ended up back home where I bought myself a proper commuter bike, an old BMW r850gs.

In most places in Asia they are not used to seeing a woman riding a motorbike. Often girls and woman would silently creep up to me, ask me about the bike and have a sit on the saddle.  Meanwhile, the guys would approach Jonas telling him it would be better to take me on the back of his bike. Cheaper and safer. These are the things you kind of expect in Asia, but being back in Belgium I noticed prejudice is as easily found here.  For example, when I go to the shop they tend to try to give me the wrong stuff somehow assuming I am probably wrong about the bike I ride. Other times people just assume we travelled through Asia with me sitting on the back of the bike and occasionally I have come along people telling me it’s not smart of a girl to ride. Not sure where this comes from. People may be concerned asking questions like “Isn’t the bike too heavy for you?”, “Aren’t you a little small to ride such a bike?” or “Wouldn’t it be easier to ride a chopper kind of bike that is closer to the ground?”, but I suppose asking is learning. The bike is properly heavy, but I am not planning to topple it over too often. The bike is high, but most of the time I don’t need to reach the ground and if I do need to stop I just need to find a good place and slide of my saddle a little so I have one foot firmly on the ground. Lastly, I don’t think it really matters which bike you ride as long as it gives you comfort and joy.

That was my bike story that has only just begun. All I can say is, go out and discover. Do what you want without fearing it may be impossible. Ride a motorbike, don’t ride a motorbike. Stay at home to take care of your children or go to work and aim for the top. Go out to discover the world  or stay where you are and let the world come to you. Whatever you choose to do, there will be prejudice and judgement, but in the end life can only give you something if you have the courage to ask for it.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Things have changed, that much I am sure of. To start with, it is a new year, but honestly, I don’t think that really makes a difference. In a few days time I went from a full-time biker to a daily commuter. An hour sitting on the train in the morning followed by sitting behind a desk all day to end up back on the train for another hour. As my job, I am taking a closer look at how the food industry influences our life and our health on a daily basis, so that’s pretty damn interesting, but staring at a computer screen all day is quite the challenge. My brain likes all the new information, but my eyes start to hate me by the end of the day. Consequence? Here I am with my notebook on my lap writing down my blog instead of directly typing it on the computer. It is weekend, my eyes need a break from screens and my body is ready to go for a ride. That brings me to my good intention of 2019: I want to keep on riding my bike at least twice a week. Straightforward and simple. Is it raining, freezing or snowing? I don’t care. At the end I forget about the cold. It’s always the sense of freedom, adventure and joy that sticks.

Talking about the weather makes me realize how easily I am influenced by it. A drizzly and grey day makes me feel down, a snowy day makes me feel enthusiastic like a little child, a thunderstorm makes me feel wild and free and a sunny days gives me the feeling I am ready to face the challenges ahead, whatever they may be. I should probably share with you that today is a drizzly day for sure! Beware for what comes next. No, just kidding, I get by. Pondering about everyday life. Why people do what they do. Why people don’t do what they would like to do. The dominance of fear in our lives. Politicians trying to making things worse. If you don’t vote for them a lot of people will lose their job, money will be wasted and you’ll end up being unhappy. Keep the multinationals dominating our world, keep the corporate world making the decisions because money rules instead of common sense. The climate change debate is in full swing in Belgium. People have hope, politicians agree by saying how everything is impossible. Things are more complex than they seem. Everything can be solved with economic growth and innovation. Don’t touch our economic model, it’s our only saviour. Meanwhile, the only thing I hear behind what they say is the big money talking. Silently I feel we are burning together with our planet. People are unhappy, people live in fear and people think they need to buy more to someday reach fulfilment. Hello economical model of growth and innovation, I don’t think you’re doing that good a job. Maybe I am wrong, but I am pretty sure many among us wouldn’t mind using public transport more often if it was cheaper and of better quality. Pretty sure more people would like to ride their bicycle more if they wouldn’t feel like risking their life every time a car races past just a few centimetres away. Pretty sure people could one day feel richer with less stuff. So instead of focussing on how our lives will be ruined trying to write a better story for us and the environment, remember you aren’t a multinational company. There is a happier future ahead in a cleaner world. The only thing keeping us from heading in that direction is the corporate multinational world painting a picture trying to scare us as much as it scares them. Don’t be scared, just move one foot forward and then keep going.

Secrets of time

This morning I thought I saw a monkey sit on the lamppost. Sitting on the toilet I miss the gecko’s crawling on the walls, but I am damn happy there is no risk of finding cobras in my laundry basket or scorpions crossing through my bedroom! When these thoughts pop up in my head I automatically start to smile. These small realizations show how the world is totally different for everybody. Some people never need to worry about what is absolutely normal for others. I remember when we left Asia behind and went to New Zealand my first thought was, “I can walk outside during the night without having to worry about snakes crossing my path”. Believe it or not, I felt pretty relieved with that realisation. The life we are used to in most Westernized countries is incredibly safe. So safe, we don’t realise anymore how safe it is. Instead, we close our lives off from each other and lose track of ourselves. These days I haven’t been writing that much because I got lost doing everything that ‘had to be done’ while telling myself I would do the things I like doing when I was done with the previous. Obviously, I was never done and there was always something else to do. It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in all those actually not so urgent things. Waking up with this realisation I sat down and decided today was a day I would write, listen to music and go for a walk.

When you think you don’t have time it’s funny how easy you can suddenly spare time for something urgent such as getting your sink fixed. You thought there was no time left and suddenly there they are, hours to do what has to be done. So maybe, it’s not the lack of time, but the way we priorities that is the real cause of the problem. Don’t get this the wrong way, being back in Belgium I realize life is busy. For some busy may even be an understatement, but the number of people fighting burn-out and depression is staggering. Honestly, it scares me. Thinking about this, change becomes a necessity. We measure the growth of our economy, but we forget about the people who make it all happen. I refuse to believe this is the only way and I fight to avoid being part of the depressing statistics. Fight with me and make your life a good one. Take care of yourself, because without you being you there is no way forward. Give everything to make your life the way you imagined it to be instead of giving everything for something you don’t believe in.

Little things of joy

Joy is not because of doing certain things, it’s because of the way you choose to do them. Do you hear the owl sing at night? Do you listen to the water while you take a shower? Do you enjoy the smell of fire burning in the fireplace? Something won’t make you happy if you don’t let it.

Sometimes I don’t feel like going for a short ride with my motorbike because of the struggle of putting on all my winter gear, but putting this aside and doing it anyway is the best way for me to regain a smile on my face. Honestly, I don’t think there is anything in the world that I know of that makes me happier than spending time with my motorbike. If I didn’t know about the struggle of needing at least a little of money I would ride towards the horizon without looking back. Live the world instead of letting the world live me and drain away my energy.

That’s one of the things I find hard being part of the society we live in. It drains energy, spits out creativity and ignores the alternatives that could be found. A money machine where people become merely numbers. Opinions aren’t important if they don’t make profit, politics are just a game of who can scream the loudest with the most attractive lies and positivity is an attitude of the delusional. Give all you have and get a little money in return. Give all you have and spend your money on a self-reinforcing idea of what life should look like. Earn, spend, put money aside for when you get old and go through life with each day similar to the other. No alternative because you still owe the system money for your house, your car and your fancy phone you thought would change your life. Maybe a little stereotype, maybe a little true.  For you to decide.

Anyhow, currently there is no alternative and the only way to change is from within. Don’t lose your creativity. Find your joy. Go for a ride, do something you love and just for a little moment forget about what should be.

This week I took my r850gs off-road for the first time. Well, actually I went greenlaning for a while, practiced shifting gears while standing up and had some fun slithering through the puddles. Having ridden motorbikes through Asia I noticed that somehow I felt completely comfortable and the only urge I felt was to continue and learn. Learn and become a better rider. A rider ready to take on the world that lies ahead.

You don’t have to go far for an adventure. If you choose so, every day can be the exact amount of adventure you want it to be. Make every day a day you look back on with a smile. Get into bed with that positivity society tries to take away from you. A little victory, because it is the little things that make life beautiful.