It’s been well over a year since my beautiful, cold, challenging, heavy, sunny, rough, wonderful bikepacking tour in Spain and Portugal. I got back half January after two months of ‘riding rough’, but somehow I didn’t hear about that boat laying quarantined off the Chinese coast till the end of February. A virus on the loose in China. Because I live without newspapers or TV and with little online media the news got to me relatively late. Just two weeks later both the Netherlands and the rest of the world ‘closed’. I thanked on my bare knees that I’d just spend some months on my freshly rebuilt bicycle on the southern tracks and trails.
The optional bikepacking plans I had for that spring fell through and I got back onto Fuego (the single speed Race lite) to work as a bike messenger. Because people had to call in sick at the slightest sign of a cold and had to wait for the results of Covid-tests, there were many extra shifts to fill. I liked the job. Finishing a shift around 10 a.m., wide awake and a work-out already done. Often another ride in the afternoon and then complementing calories at the evening meal. But then my knees started protesting..
Because the light but nagging pain around my kneecaps didn’t lessen I inquired with a physiotherapist. After all, he and I had dealt with a similar injury six years ago. In the months before I left on my bike to Asia he’d helped me to get back in the saddle. It wasn’t easily solved back then either but we did and during the 14 months of travelling that followed I didn’t have the slightest knee pain.
But this time the treatment didn’t help. The exercises were painful and also keeping rest didn’t induce any progress. I started couriering less and lighter, but the pains increased nonetheless. So I made a tough decision and erased the plan to go on a long bike tour soon out of my agenda. I sadly stared at the empty pages that lied before me. Now what?
During summer holidays in the Karwendel mountains in Austria I cycled, hiked and climbed with reservation. I enjoyed the time in the mountains, but as the pain nagged in my knees, the fear nibbled in my head. Where is this going? During a hike to a mountaintop I enthusiastically praised my ‘new secondhand’ light hiking poles. Going up was easy. But descending in pain I cursed myself for the stupid action. What a dumb-ass was I! Why hadn’t I tried what it was like to walk downhill before I thoughtlessly headed for that peak?
Back home I opened up my empty agenda. The combination of the pandemic plus my knee trouble closed the door to long trips, guiding bike tours, travel speeches and even to reviving my old career as a singing and acting teacher. Just one cherished wish seemed to have free play at this time: going back to school, to university.
Ever since I was young there has been an eagerness in me to understand the world. Hardly surprising I took off to travel. Later a wish to make the world more beautiful added to that. And later again I started to partially turn away from the consumer mentality of western society. I started to realize that this prosperity could only be obtained in one way: over the backs over others, people, animals and nature.
Within me had lived the idea that firstly I had to gain more experience in life and the world before I could make the right contribution in the right way in order for the world to benefit from it. Hoping to develop my contemplative, analytical and inventive talents (..and realizing it was probably a bit ambitious to want to become a ‘doctor without borders’) I chose a pre-master in Philosophy.
Maybe this then was what this year had in store for me.
Not entirely without sentiment I went on a short tour just a week before my classes started. A four-city-tour. On the first day I started at my tiny cabin just outside my ‘hometown’ Tilburg and cycled to Nijmegen. This is the city where (well, online of course) I would study this coming semesters. From Nijmegen I cycled to Utrecht, where I studied singing at the conservatory in what now seemed like I lifetime ago. The last day I cycled from Utrecht to den Haag, where my prince (and big support for me, my bicycles and my dreams) lives. The next day I attended my first online classes.
I visited an orthopedist who looked at the X-rays of my knees and pushed and pulled my kneecaps a bit. Later that week he called me with his diagnoses: He couldn’t find any major defect and there was no problem growing old with these knees. I had to keep moving, but not to intensively.
What an insight!! I won’t die of my knee pain… HOORAY!
He confirmed that I could try going back to a physiotherapist. And that was all. I decided to stop my messenger job. Those few kilometers I could still ride I preferred not to spend on work.
I did exercises and didn’t do exercises, kept rest and kept riding and walking, taped my knees, smeared ointments, took herbs and vitamins. I tortured myself on the foam roller till my muscles were more loose than ever before. I visited a new physiotherapist who wisely referred me to the academic hospital for a second opinion. Before my appointment there I wrote them a letter; that I understand my knee pains won’t kill me but that the impact on my life is huge. I need strong knees for all my future plans. I need them to pedal me around the world, to haul around stuff as I’m building a cabin and the walk me through the wilderness of New-Zealand. Etc. etc.
They’ve listed to my story and made MRI scans of both my knees. Next week I’m meeting again with the orthopedist and the sports doctor. In the best case they’ve made a diagnosis and have a treatment plan. In the worst case.. I rather not think about that.
Though I can’t help running optional alternative solutions through my mind. Travelling on a hand bike, on a horse or camel, maybe in a kayak?
During the past few years my body has forced me on my knees. It’s made it very clear that I have to take care of it well for it to allow me the luxury and freedom to do what I want. That I shouldn’t exploit it. I’m going to wait and try to be patient a little bit more. In the meantime I enjoy every single kilometer that I ride or walk. They’re so dear to me.
And really, dear body… I’ve learned my lesson. Can I now please, please, get back on my bike and venture out into the world again, chasing my dreams?