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Bits and stories about World Bike for Breath. A Bulletin for sponsors. Volume 1, August 2003
One elephant, two children and 7-3/4 books:
Two floppy fuzzy ears and the long gray snout of an elephant are poking out of my husband Lorenz’s left front pannier. Lars, our eleven year old daughter Yvonne’s well traveled stuffed animal, has a front row seat today; for Yvonne’s pannier is overly full and Lars head, quite honestly, does not quite fit in. Lars seems to be pleased, however, as he bobs his head contentedly at the rocky coves of the Swedish coastline, dotted with colorful fishing villages and the cries of cormorants, seagulls and swans.
Balancing out the elephant in the front right pannier of Lorenz’s tandem are four books in English—treasured possessions of our thirteen year old daughter, Anya. As we are now leaving the somewhat familiar languages of Western Europe and heading east to the Cyrillic alphabets and Asian characters of Russia, Mongolia and China, these books—like Yvonne’s elephant—have successfully evaded our cycling rules of traveling light.
Indeed, since our family began our world cycling tour for asthma four months and 4000 kilometers ago in Greece, we have been waging, rather unsuccessfully, an ongoing “Battle of the Bulge” (in this case with our panniers, not our waistlines). Despite monthly weight reduction programs, our panniers appear to have similar amazing reproduction properties to the magic cooking pot of folklore: always full regardless of the amount of food, or possessions, removed.
The battle began innocently enough with my purchase of a set of Greek worry beads. They became so popular with our family that, ten countries later, they are still traveling happily along in my handlebar bag. In the Alps of Austria, after a five day desperate search for the newly released Harry Potter book, we bought a three pound hard cover English version which was squeezed daily into various panniers for almost 1000 miles to France. Upon the book’s completion, however, it was immediately replaced by two bottles of expensive skin lotions for Anya’s tender complexion along with another six books purchased in England.
Meanwhile, in Germany, reveling in the flatter landscape and the appearance of his family’s traditional foods, Lorenz carried along one kilogram glass jars of sauerkraut, rotkohl and wurstchen. And in Sweden, as the burning temperatures of a record hot summer in Europe have finally given way to brisk fall winds, we have added fleece shirts and pants, plus two sets of knitting needles and four skeins of wool. The girls insist that by the time we reach Russia, they will have been transformed into hats and scarves.
To be fair, we have made repeated attempts to gain the upper hand in the weight wars. Weekly trips to local post offices have scattered packages covered with colorful stamps and filled with gifts, mementoes and photos across our American friends’ households--their space wars being, so we think, far less dramatic than ours. And a few items such as my asthma medications (which provide both the purpose and the physical ability for me to undertake this sixteen month ride) have dropped significantly from 36 inhalers to 24. Likewise, although our current total of whole books is seven (Anya 4,; Lorenz 1; Yvonne 1; Paula 1), I have become skilled at transporting decimated pieces of various travel guides: carrying three more quarters of books held together with tape and packed carefully in zip lock bags.
As we now head into the former Soviet Baltic states, friends have warned us to be prepared for customs searches through our bags. Although the prospect of customs examinations at first seemed daunting, I am currently beginning to relish the idea of a Lithuanian border guard pulling out the five bottles of shampoo, hair conditioner, liquid soap, diswashing liquid and and clothes detergent currently stowed in the outside pockets of our rear panniers. Perhaps the guard will do us a favor and confiscate a few bottles, settling the battle of the bulge—at least until Latvia.
Updated: September 8, 2003