Friday, September 4, 2009

my love, this life. and thank you - the end of a two month bike tour through eastern europe.

"i quit! i quit this stupid cross continental bicycle tour!" i exclaim loudly while unclipping the straps, shoving away my beloved brodie, and wailing my helmet clear across the feild of our final accomodation spot (*next to the airport/ big planes every 15 minutes*) to the rejoicing cheers and jumping up and downs of The Agents, who, ever since they all made it to camp and realized they were missing 1 last soldier, and had started to map out rescue details, had been somewhat spooked by the thought of loosing one on the last day.

Lucky for us, though, good old sweep pulled through. Jake and Keely, who had volunteered themselves for the duty of "sweep" on the first ride day out of Amsterdam, had come full circle to do so on the last day as well, and, just as I was waking up from a little roadside nappy nap to take a break from the constant woosh.woosh.woosh. of those big trucks I was telling you about, I turned my head left and noticed two bright green t-shirts with tangerine orange writing blasted across the chest, complete with the full deal of bright red arkel panniers, and knew it was Agents - to the rescue. "JAKE! AHHH!! hahahaha..." my voice breaks into hysterical laughter, and jake and keely are only mildly surprised to find me, of all people, chillin on the highway taking a snooze alone.


And with that, well, and about another 3 hours of navigating around the city using my red pencil crayon directions in order to find our final sweet spot, the ride is finished.

one final go at setting up our tents. one last time to cook for one another... although, actually, i think we went out for dinner that night to a restaurant with our hosts, and yeah, i definately ate chicken kebabs, but whatevs. one last moment of time together. three days to scamp around istanbul and take some real time to reflect as a team and debrief our tour. make it better for next year's crew, retell stories from the trip, have a makeshift awards ceremony (best couple? cobra and mongoose!! best bum to ride behind? keely and charles!) build on personal goals and cement friendships, encourage one another's future aspirations before we all jetison out of here in 20 different directions: home to university, berlin, oxford, and toronto for masters programs, africa to volunteer with ewb, the middle east to travel, california to build space ships...

i can't wrap up for you in real time words about our last few days together. just some shwarma eating, and general merriment as we slowly moved on. the next few days in istanbul saw the remaining agents meet a few times to smoke sheeshah and hang out with each other in our "normal clothes"... interesting getting to know one another in this new context. hosted sabrina, george, david, and myself with a fabulous man named emre, and my bicycle remains stowed in his bedroom currently as i travel this most wonderful middle eastern world. not sure if this particular blog will hear stories about those travels as well... but thank you so much for reading my writing here over these last few months.

and thank you for making this happen.
the most encouraging thing to carry with me on this bicycle tour has been the encouragement and support of my friends, family, local papers, university professors and colleagues, bike shops and knowledgeable bike friends, sfu cats, elementary school principles from the past, and the many people who donated their hard earned cash towards helping me raise nearly $5000 for the global agents for change opportunity fund. thank-you. this is a charity that i believe has a lot of potential in terms of helping young people become young leaders, and i have found great bliss in being connected with a group of young people who are interested in humanitarian involvement, to varying degrees.

this experience has shaped my life, no doubt. and i wouldn't have made it without the support of my many communities.

and now, so long. fare well. and take care.

damascus sends it's love, dear reader. (and ps, if anyone wants to call my bank it would be nice if they got over their ill relations with syria so i could take out some money! its nice here!)

galatasaray milne


oh, and as a closing note, a poem written by my roomate barbara, and posted here without my asking her permission first. thanks barb! the world needs your poetry now.

While you were cycling your leggies...
Another Vancouver summer came and went
Your laughter wasn't in it,
But it was delighting others I'm sure
Many glorious suns melted into the water of the west
Under long, layered violet, orange and pink
And since the dawn of this particular season
Each day has been shorter than the next
And each day we are older than the last
And each day I'm glad to have another
So I'm just gonna live it...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

i'm just a girl alone on a bike on istanbul's fastest highway: day 56

conversation of "our last ride" began to set in near the middle of bulgaria. our final day? coming so soon? had everyone on the team had the chance to spend an entire day's ride together? was there that one person who you never really seemed to connect with that you might want to spend a day riding with one on one? push yourself to ride 35k and hour with the man-pod one day? maybe spend the next day taking it easy with the my-knees-are-shot-and-i-dont-mind-walking-my-bike-up-that-enourmous-hill pod?
yeah. maybe.
but what about the last day? what about day 56 of non-stop bicycle? i've ridden with everyone singularly... but i've never ridden with everyone altogether... 20 people riding as one. can you imagine? a school of lime green and tangerine tee shirted fishies flowing downhill through the sea of semis trucks cars and other motors which is the highway into istanbul on the border of europe and asia and the marmara and the bosphorous sea and the golden horn and the blue mosque ayasofia aie aie aie aieeee arrrribbaaaaaa!

well, no. that would just be silly! surely we would be met with death before 20 little bikes could navigate together through a highway. that is absolutely ridiculous! a)in order for a truck to pass us with space to bear, it would have to swerve into the neighboring lane for wayyy too many metres,
b) i've already mentioned that this team rides at different speeds... and c) how would we ever keep track of one another?

how indeed, team?

despite yashar's insistence, we opted to stay in smaller pods for better navigation on the last day. hoever nice it might be to ride all together for the grandure of it all. that morning, yash woke a few of us up around 4:45am for our last chance to watch a turkish sunrise together. we sat in crickety plastic chairs near the fence of the campground. the asphalt on the road outside looked akin to fresh powder on a ski hill, just waiting for the first run.

the sun was golder than gold and brighter than bright. we are riding our bikes to the edge of the continent today.

the morning would reveal a "rolling start"... that is code for the fact that we didn't get our act together and theres no breakfast today, so lets cycle to the nearest grocery store and regroup to pack lunches. my motive for the day, being one of the most vocally opposed to highway traffic people on the team, was to get on the road asap.
after a quick Petro Offisal java a la see-thru lightweight plastic cup, i left camp with dear sabrina, eileen, shawn, david, george, yashar, nigel, chris, and sweet gene. our ride was only 40k and 20k in we crossed paths with our first sight of saltwater since the netherlands. we'd reached the marmara sea unexpectedly, and you should have seen the pace with which we threw down our fully loaded bicycles and ripped off our jerseys for a chance to jump in the sea! a round of cay tea at the closest cafe, and it seemed as though, being halfway through the day already, that the ride into istanbul wasn't going to be all as hectic as i'd imagined. sunrise? rolling start? cay tea and a dip in the ocean blue? holla!

but gala... how nieve you must be. the next twenty kilometers to the airport consisted of a terrain of mostly steep uphill and downhill highway stretches that are so not-like the pat bay highway towards sidney that its hard for me to describe. and besides, i wasn't really looking and it was more like the highway looked like this: woosh. woosh. woosh. woosh. woosh. focus, gala, focus.

which, surprisingly enough, is a lot easier to do when you are by yourself. any maybe thats just out of neccessity, because there is no one in front or behind you to take the blow of the traffic and you really need all the strength you can muster to stay in a straight line... (slightly exaggerated?) but wait, you're thinking... how would you know what its like to cycle alone on a highway into istanbul? well, my friends... because with all good intentions, they sometimes go astray and these sorts of things happen. because despite plans laid, your pod runs into another pod at a gas station on the road and then you randomly all start riding together down the highway and your worst nightmare becomes an insane reality as you realize there are 17 of you all riding together into the 'stan!

now, like i mentioned, we all ride at different speeds, and the terrain was very insane... so after watching us all zip down an enourmous downhill section and begin to climb up the hill waiting at the bottom, with no real place to stop and regroup anywhere around, and just as i started climbing up the other side too, i noticed that a chunk of the team was still quite a ways back, but the adrenaline and momentum was built up inside me and i just had to keep pushing and meet them at the top. pedal pedal pedal. "hey shani, keep it coming! see you at the top!" i manage to squeeze out of my voicebox as my legs spin around and round.
keep going, girl... keep going.
i notice momentarily as i look up the hill that i can't see any of the kids who (are a little bit stronger and) are probably already at the top waiting for me at the gas station. keep going keep going. i look behind: the slower folks haven't caught up to me in any capacity... and i begin to think to myself... i could be alone. i could totally be alone on this highway right now!

and sure enough, i was!

ha! i must leave the net cafe now because im actually in BEIRUT, LEBANNON!?!?!? and its really cool in here, but i bet its cooler outside. but actually, probably hotter... because theres a/c in here. hmm yeah.

ill tell you more about this most epic of last rides in person one day. but you already know that i survived (i rode 10k of that highway alone, ps) and the trip is over and theres all these emotions! ack! and i have muscles! ack!
but i don't want to spoil the next post continuation thing...


Friday, August 21, 2009


turkish coffee - been waiting for you.
your black foamy crema is zingıng right thru
my fingertips as i take more sips
and relish a seat ın the shade.

flags reign high over the land,
at the gas station and the fruit stand.
its hard to hide the pride inside
please - take a cold watermelon.

you honk at us twice
you wave cuz you're nice
you invıte us inside
and you tell us our rides...
should have engines.

past the mountains i'd feared
we can now cheer
we're here!
in turkey - it's clear...
that we're strong ones.

istanbul awaits
150k away
and i don't want this trip to be

Thursday, August 20, 2009

la de da dee da... greece?

a split second decision this morning has decided that most of the agents are adding an additional twelfth country to the ride to break the cycle europe tour. and the winner is... greece! apparently mezek, our final sleep spot in bulgaria (just outside svelingrad) is about 15k from the greek border, so the decision was made to make it a tri border cross day. spending the rest of our leva at a cafe here in wonderful mezek with the amazing bulgarian terrain and generous people, we are hesitant to leave this country which has been so good to us. my next correspondance will be from turkey. and then who knows what...

last night we all made promises for the last week of our tour. to give a high five to everyone at the end of the ride, to speak our mind, and mine is to write a poem and draw a picture of everyone before the end of the tour.

hello greek salad.
goodbye bulgars.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

over hard in plovdiv, sunny side up in kardjali

i always assumed, but never knew for sure, that there was a wall in bike touring. it creeps up slowly, and usually comes after about 7 weeks of strong cycling through unchartered terrain on tight schedules. phillipe, our driver, would have been the first to notice the trend with first a keely, then a nigel, then an eileen, erin, and a shani in the car.
i'd vouched after about a week of riding that i would ride the entire route to istanbul. no matter what. just to prove it to myself, you know? 'you can do it, gala! wooo!'
but once that wall hits you in the middle of the night, and you wake up in the overly-hot gymnasium of the french immersion school in plovdiv, and your stomach is wrenching around, and you make a mad dash to the w.c., you know that today is going to be your day to take a day off and ride in the car.
'is it ok? should i take a day off? really?' i look for reassurance among the team. jake responds, 'didn't you just throw up ten minutes ago while you were talking with phil on the stairs? i think everyone will be okay with you riding in the car, gala.'
considering the fact that the world caved in on me as i dizzily searched for juice in the popmusic playing mega marina supermarket, and i had to make a mad dash to the exit and throw up on the sidewalk, i don't feel that guilty for taking the day off at all.
(writers note: since when did i become so comfortable talking about my stomach activity with the internet? i guess its all part of the touring thing...)
k-os, bob marley, & regina spektor led the way as phil and i rolled in four wheels over the foothills of bulgaria, feeling only slightly sorry for the team.
we have a day off in kardjali today, and i haven't left the little house we are staying in for even a minute. lounging around in my short shorts with keely and sabrina, reading, internetting, dozing off like kittens, as the others hang out in town visiting local media and wandering new streets.
apparently we only have 5 days left. WHAT?! and then 3 days to debrief. it has me thinking about my next four months, and how i'll adjust to not having these 20 amazing kids around me every second of the day.
sayonara for now