Ecotopia Biketour is not your average holiday. It is more a way of life. It can be tough and it can be beautiful. It is the highs and lows and highs again of team work, self sufficiency and making connections with other communities and cultures. It is a community built on consensus and equality bringing a pro-active message of change that it is possible to do and go far with bicycle power only! It is also a celebration of vegan cuisine! In Turkey it was very hot as I am sure it will be this year. To help with handling the heat the group decided to have a siesta in the afternoons. This was a good time to sit under a tree, cook lunch and have our group meetings. Group meetings can sometimes go on for a long time, be prepared it is a part of life on bike trip. Although I sometimes struggled with the meetings I can appreciate their value. Communication, compromise and problem solving is not a unique process to bike trip and it is not everyday that you get to do it with such a diverse group. Hazelnuts were in abundance all over Turkey at the time. I remember one meeting when someone brought a big bag of hazelnuts and we passed handfuls around the circle and continued meeting as we cracked our hazelnuts with rocks and then roasted them on the fire. There was something relaxing and bonding about doing this together as we talked. There were so many times when a process like this brought us together. Whether it be cooking together or playing a game we learned about ourselves and each other in a way that was unique to the bike tour.
After 6 months of organising the route, I was glad when it finally started and I was doing things with people face to face. There was a million things left to organise, but they would have to be done on the way. It was so good to be on my bike, with a map and a good sense of direction. Maybe I spoke too soon, because on the first day, everyone was already pushing their laden bicycles up 30% hills, joking how we’d organised a walking-tour, not a biketour. Even though the hills got easier, it definitely wasn’t what I expected. It turned out to be more than an alternative to conventional travelling: It was totally frustrating, exhausting, educational, inspiring and really changed how I think and act.
Exhausting: So many workshops, meetings, games and actions. We went 40-80km on a cycling day, made signs on the roads to show the way, tried to update our website to let the world know what we were up to and dealt with whatever the weather threw at us. Everything was carried by bike and our two little trailers: sleeping accomodation (tents and sleeping bags), kitchen (pots and our self-made rocket-stove) and action factory (leaflets, banner-material, paint). So many activities happening and so much to organise throughout the biketour. For many people, the cycling was the easiest part! I reckon we were all glad to crawl into our sleeping bags each night. Ever-changing: Everyday or so we had new surroundings, a completely different project or event was hosting us: we stayed with squats, farms, housing co-ops, social centres, action camps, festivals, wild camping… and even a church during a conference. People joined the community from a few days to a few weeks to a few months, so the group of people along with the landscape was always changing! Workshops and agreements often had to be repeated, different translations to happen, but it was all part of building the community. Educational: From the first day we were learning things: how to build a rocket stove, how to fix a rocket stove when it breaks when you use it! Not to trust contour lines on maps or the distances on road signs or locals’ directions! That chalk-signs left for others are quick to fade, and that capitcal Bs with an arrow are not always from fellow biketour companions… We were experimenting with screenprinting and continually repairing our bicycles. Vegan meals, compost toilets and squatted buildings were new for most people, and the diversity of participants meant everyone learn something each day. On top of this, the route was planned around mobilisations and struggles for climate justice: in such places we were really involved with issues such as coal mining, oil, highway expansion, migration & borders, sustainable living and carfree cities. Inspiring: One of the best aspects of the biketour was the locals we met along the way. It was endlessly encouraging to see grassroots campaigns resisting destructive and damaging projects, and to meet functioning groups of activists working to create the world they want to live in. Within the biketour community, there were some amazingly cohesive moments when everyone had been proactive. The day we cycled from Belgium into the Netherlands, everyone arrived at our host’s very late and completely soaked from the rain, but all eager to share the food they’d found that day. Some people had collected berries and edible plants growing wild; others had collected fallen apples and pears; potatoes left behind in a harvested field; asked for bread at the end of the bakeries’ working day; reclaimed the food thrown in the bins by supermarkets; gathered produce at the end of a veggie market and the leftovers from a jazz festival. I was impressed by our resourcefulness and the collective group thinking. I was also hideously shocked at the amount of excess our society produced. it really changed my thinking: The biketour radicalised me and motivated me. I fully realised that we don’t need to wait for other people to change or do things for us. We don’t need to buy things that we want to use; that we can find, grow or build them ourselves. We can share our knowledge and experiences, listen actively to others and even completely change our society.
DIY biketour zine for inspiration: http://zinelibrary.info/diy-bike-tour-2