Cycle touring is a strange mix of many separate activities, travel, sport, adventure, each with their own conventions and norms. Its ok to spit while playing ruby for example or to smell when on a mountain ascent that takes a few days. Touring, however, is an odd blend of wild and urban. A day´s cycling will often take us from the wilderness of mountains where we can spit as much as we like to the urban surrounds of downtown where it would be a faux pas to hock loudly. We might spend weeks wearing the same clothes and wild camping and then find ourselves rubbing shoulders with “normal” people in a restaurant or supermarket.
This takes a little bit of getting used to. We spend our lives conditioned to be clean and mannerly, to be careful that our nails are clipped and that we change our socks daily. When you sleep in a different place each night, and you have to pull all of your worldly possessions, normalities such as cleanliness become luxuries- and, to be honest, not really that important.
We’ve found ourselves slowly growing into the “savages” that our expedition necessitates. Slowly becoming immune to, even comfortable with our own dirt and “aged” & “complex” aroma.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal perhaps, we might be covered from head to toe in mud after a rugby match, or wear the same boxers for a week on a mountain trek. But what’s a little odd about cycle touring is that you then interact with normal society,in that state, you play a match or go on a trek and then stand in the same clothes in a queue in a patisserie or a bank- and become conscious that your aroma, somewhere between an aged camembert and a that sports bag that you left in the boot of your car after a gym session two weeks ago is wafting around you, and at odds with the odours of normal society- the citrus, musk or spice of aftershave, perfume and deodorant. The smells of fresh an clean that we unconciously expect in certain social environments. Its still unsettling when the person in front grimaces and looks your way, the person behind you stands a few feet back from you in a shop.
Its not so bad when you are on the bike, but once you see people in a different context when you are just a scruff bag it feels a little odd. Especially, because of my infant level Spanish, I can’t explain away or at least show that I know I stink, that I’m aware that its not appropriate for the surrounds but that this beyond my control. Explain that when I get back to normality I’ll shower every day and always wear clean clothes. Its still odd to have someone think that I might find it normally acceptable to be in a bank in such a cloud of pungency.
I expect, that as we get farther from home, geographically and culturally, these feelings will diminish and I´ll grow more used to being scruffy, to eating with unwashed hands and putting on dirty clothes. Become immune to the admonishing stares. That said, maybe I won’t. Perhaps at 27 I’ve been so conditioned as to whats acceptable that I’ll never feel fully comfortable being dirty around clean people.
click the box below for musical accompaniement