1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 1

Way back in 1988, I did my first bicycle trip through Europe. Actually, it was my first bicycle trip of any kind and, other than a Caribbean honeymoon cruise, my first time abroad. I was newly divorced (a lot of good that cruise did!), still quite young (31), and ready to change my life. I’d started working out—mostly aerobics and racquetball but also the occasional bike ride, and had gotten fit and was looking for adventure. Before the divorce, a good friend of mine had moved to Brussels, so I had the idea to visit him there and then travel by bicycle to Amsterdam, Cologne, and back to Brussels. A 430-mile circuit through the heart of western Europe, it seemed a perfect combination of adventure and physical challenge. I spent the summer training for the trip by riding my bike with gradually increasing frequency and distance (although what I did then doesn’t come close to what I routinely do now on the bicycle) and then began what proved to be the beginning of my love affair with international travel and the first hint of the serious cyclist lifestyle that I would eventually adopt for myself.

During the trip, I kept a journal (also something I’d never done before but now do routinely), and for 25 years the small, spiral-bound notebook has sat undisturbed on my bookshelf. I happened to leaf through its yellowing pages the other day and found the writings at once fascinating and a tad embarrassing—a peek back in time to a more naive version of myself. I don’t know who, if anybody, reads this blog, as it has lain mostly dormant for the past couple of years, but nevertheless I thought it might be interesting to transcribe the journal to these electronic pages. If nothing, the act of transcription alone will dust the cobwebs from my memories and help me recall some long-forgotten details of that marvelous, life-changing trip. In the interest of full disclosure, I plan to transcribe the journal entries exactly as I wrote them—misspellings and less-than-flattering comments included. Any present comments will be surrounded by [square brackets].

[Sunday] 8/21/88 – I’m presently en route to New York’s Kennedy Airport. I can’t believe that this trip has finally begun. It has been in the future for so long I began to think of it as permanent. Although I was excited about it, it was more of a calm anticipation. Yesterday I began to feel nervous about it for the first time, as if the reality of it was finally hitting me. I suddenly began to worry that I had not adequately planned, or was going to run out of money, or that my bicycle would get lost in transit, etc. I normally have not gotten so uptight before a trip. I’ve been shifting my sleep periods forward during the past week in an attempt to minimize problems with jet lag. As a result, I awoke this morning at 3 AM. My flight began at 1:20 PM so it has been a long day already. Packing took only a couple of hours, I want to travel light since I will be carrying my luggage with me on the bicycle. Sunday morning television is really boring, so I really had nothing to do for the longest time. Finally the stores opened so I was able to get out and do some last minute shopping before I left. David took me to the airport, I’m really glad he was along ’cause I really started feeling uptight on the way there. Once the plane took off I was able to relax, I feel pretty good now. I’ve got a long flight ahead of me. It’s only two hours to New York, but I have a 2½ hour layover there and then a 7 hour flight to Brussells [sic] (Bruxelles). I set my watch this morning to Brusells [sic] time, I just finished “lunch” (my second today) and my watch reads 10:00 PM. Hopefully I will be able to sleep on the plane once I leave New York. It will arrive at 9 AM Brussells [sic] time, if I can’t sleep I’ll be in trouble.

We are now approaching Kennedy Airport.

— I’m sitting here at the airport lounge in Kennedy. What a bore! We arrived a half hour early so I get to hang around for 3 hours instead of 2½. If the prices here are any indication of New York’s cost of living, I sure wouldn’t want to live here, not on my present salary at least [I worked for the state]. A bottle of beer cost $3.25. The people watching is pretty good here, this must be the international wing of the airport [duh!]. I feel so cosmopolitan! This sitting in the lounge is getting old though, I think I’ll browse.

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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