I have increasingly, and at times frustratingly, learnt that I am very similar to both my parents, who are, in contrast, very different to each other. I am extremely stubborn like my Dad and worry excessively about my actions and their impact on others, like my Mum. Both worry and stubbornness are of course useful, or even essential characteristics to help us lead balanced lives but in excess they can impede progress and harmony. It is probably fair to say that I am both excessively stubborn and worrisome a lot of the time and these characteristics are enhanced around my family.
When you come together for intense periods of time with family who share the same characteristics as you, conflict can often arise. Families can be challenging and exasperating. And yet we decided to set off cycling 1000 miles from Derby to our ancestral farm in Poland, in memory of my Dziadek (Grandfather), taking some of his ashes home.
I did worry about whether we would all get along and at times had visions of the blazing rows that might occur, particularly between Dad and I. When I was a teenager we used to argue a lot, mostly out of stubbornness, when I was forming my own political views and learned that, in this area, we were and still are incredibly different. We rarely argue these days, but before we set off I wondered whether that is partly due to us living in different countries!
Despite our differences, one thing we all share is a love of adventure, something that I am eternally grateful to both of my parents for. I am privileged, in that a desire to explore was instilled in me throughout my childhood, cycle-touring, backpacking and hitch-hiking for all our family holidays, rarely staying in one place for more than a night. My parents were reluctant to book ahead, simply deciding on a start and end point and then working out the bit in between as we went along. This didn't always work out, and it taught me that these were the moments when Adventure began.
Throughout our journey cycling from Derby to Poland we spent every day together, Dad and I. And we did bicker. I got frustrated by Dad's insistence on trusting his Satnav over the map, and when I was leading, I would bristle upon hearing his frequent phrase, "Mikaela... this doesn't feel right.". In turn, I annoyed Dad with my stubbornness. I would insist on changing my flat tyres myself, and would always choose the smallest roads possible, even though he would definitely have been faster changing my tyres and the scenic routes often disappeared into vague tracks. However, the majority of the time we made a great team. Our stubbornness rarely clashed, in fact it often helped. Even when we were pushing our bikes for hours along dirt tracks, we just got on with it. There were days when we got lost, sometimes my fault, sometimes Dad's, and it would add considerable distance to our day, but we cycled on. Our combined stubbornness helped us to cross the Netherlands in less than a day's riding and got us from Derby to Poland in just 14 days.
And what about worry? Part of dealing with worry for me is having a good idea of a plan. It doesn't matter if the plan changes or doesn't work out, but that initial reflection on the journey ahead gets me thinking about challenges, problems and potential solutions. Because of my desire to plan, it also helped Mum's worry. Much of her worry is caused by uncertainty, or by having to make decisions, so planning helped to alleviate some of her anxiety through creating simple routines. I planned where we would aim to meet each day, roughly where to camp and how far we would try to get. Mum was then tasked with trying to find somewhere for us to camp before we arrived, based on the information I had given her. There were only 3 or 4 occasions where this didn't work out.
On one such occasion, on our first night in Poland, Mum drove ahead to a small village in the West that had a marked campsite. When she arrived in fog and fading light she was told there were no campsites within reach. She spent time wandering the village and, using her characteristic mixed mime approach, communicated with the few people around. Eventually, when she had retired to the van to contemplate her next move, a man came over with his daughter (who spoke a little English) and said that my parents would be welcome to stay outside his house in the van and that I could pitch my tent in his Garden. By the time Dad and I cycled into the village it was all settled, we were staying at Eddy's. I pitched up in his immaculate garden for the night and we watched a neighbour tend to his pigeons across the road as the day drew to a close. Mum has a talent for befriending people.
I have learnt that Cycling brings out the best in people. It brought us together, Dad, Mum and Me, and also helped us to make connections with the people we met along the way. When we arrived in Derby's twin town Osnabruck, we were almost immediately befriended by an older gentleman named Wilfred, who took it upon himself to introduce us to the town, share stories and point out interesting landmarks and features. Perhaps Wilfred and Eddy would have still welcomed us without the bikes, but cycling certainly provides a friendly and familiar icebreaker.
On reflection, without Me and Dad being so stubborn, we probably wouldn't have set off in the first place. Or perhaps we would have given up after so much time spent pushing our bikes on sand and dirt. And without worry we may not have met such interesting people, or created plans that took us through all of the beautiful places we experienced along the journey. I am still in the process of learning that the characteristics I perceive as being my weaknesses can also be my strengths, if I listen to them and include them in my internal dialogue rather than trying to push them out.
In conclusion, our experiment in renewed family adventures appears to have been a great success. In fact, it was so successful we are already planning our next one!