My name is Alina Ene. I am a fashion designer or at least I used to be… or at least I am trying to be one. Born in Romania, living in Jakarta at the moment. Wonder lust flows in my veins but it wasn’t always like this. I learned how to cycle when I was 26, two years later I was cycling towards Indonesia (didn’t do the whole distance though). Before I crossed the border between Romania and Bulgaria on two wheels I didn’t do any extensive travelling.
LIFE BEFORE TAKING THE ROAD
I was restless. Nothing made me happy, nothing longer fit. I was always feeling like time was against me. I was living in Bucharest at that time. I either had money and no time to enjoy the money or time and no money. So at one point it just didn’t make sense to live in the big city anymore. I moved back in my small home town where everything felt dead. Of course it was just my perception.
WHY DID I LEAVE?
It was fall when I moved back home. Just for the fun of it I joined warmshowers.org as a host. Never thought any touring cyclist would be interested in passing my small town, especially because winter was about to knock at the door. And then I received a request from a Russian cyclist. I don’t even remember from where he started his journey but he had no previous experience of cycling, not even two-days tours. I got so fired up by his story. But where to go? With what money?
During the previous summer I participated in a project of researching cycling routes along the Danube. I remembered that one of the other volunteers told me about this art scholarship for Indonesia. If only the application period was still open… I went online, anxiety level over the roof. I had maybe two weeks to apply. So “where to” was decided. “How” definitely had to include on bike. If I got the scholarship or not I was going to find out just months later, but I couldn’t wait for the result in order to start preparing for the trip. So one crowd funding campaign and a couple of sponsorships later I was good to go. It wasn’t enough time to do the entire distance from Romania to Indonesia on two wheels, but I tried to cover as much as I could in three months. I left on 4th June 2014 and on 28th August I had to be in Jakarta for the start of the scholarship. I found out that I got it (scholarship) only the day previous to my departure.
HARDSHIPS AND AMAZING STORIES FROM THE ROAD
First 5 days were the most difficult. You suddenly realise all the little things that filled up your day and that you took for granted. Except the first day, nobody waited for me with a hot meal after cycling the whole time during rain. There was no hot shower after all the effort. In Bulgaria I was completely ignored. Local cyclists coming from the other direction weren’t greeting…
But every day you get further and further from “home” it gets easier. And the world reveals itself in all its beauty. It is not all milk and honey of course. It gets really lonely sometimes. I am not talking about the blissful moments of solitude when you feel at peace with yourself and all makes sense. And you are just pure gratitude.
Sometimes I wished I had someone with whom to share the happiness or the sorrow. But I would still chose traveling solo over traveling with someone just for the sake of not feeling lonely.
All in all it was easier than expected. I cycled 5171 km in 86 days (including rest days). Every time I think of hardships and amazing stories from the road, nothing in particular really comes to mind. You are just in the moment and you try to take everything as it comes.
When in Georgia I had a day with really heavy rain. The nearby river overflowed and the road was simply covered in mud. I had to take all my stuff down from the bike and carry everything over the other side. While putting everything back on the bike, I heard a puppy yelping so I went down to the river to see who was little crier. Took the puppy, knowing that if I left it there it was just a matter of time before it would have been swept away by the water. I cycled with the fluffy ball of warmth until the first gas station.
HOW THE EXPEREINCE CHANGED ME
Did my life changed? It did. But it’s not really about the fact that I travelled solo or that I cycled for I don’t know how many kilometres. It is about the fact that I took the leap of faith. If you have something that you just know you have to do, just do it. “You owe it to yourself to try to live your life as you want it to be” (these are my mother’s words). You may fail. But you may win also. Unless you try you will never know, do you? In my book you already won the moment you decided to go for it.
Funny thing and I don’t think it’s just me experiencing this: before I started the journey I was imagining it will be this bohemian lifestyle, I would start every day with meditation (having no previous experience or practice), I would learn yoga along the road, I would document colours, textures through drawings…I would write every day in my journal. But got so caught in moving from A to B, in finding a safe place where to sleep for the night, in just enjoying without feeling the need to document the experience for others… Looking back I wish I was more consistent in this regard…
We all want happiness as if it’s a perpetual state of mind, but, I guess, whatever you choose in life, it comes with the same variables. Maybe what we want is change but we’ve been teatched to desire permanence: life-long career, happily ever after marriage, friends for ever…Because of this search we miss the moment, we are left with the bitter after taste. Stop! Let it go!
WHY BELIEVE IN THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
I met some nasty people, but they are not worth mentioning. I met so much more amazing people. I tried to avoid stealth camping as much as possible (scared of spirits) so I was asking people if I could put my tent in their yard and, more than once, I was simply invited to spend the night inside their house.
One day, in Armenia, I was just sitting by the side of the road, having my coffee. It was evening. And these four ladies approach me asking my whereabouts and one of them offered to host me for the night, just like that. This type of trust it’s the most amazing gift that the road has to offer you.
Somehow is strange though: you are a passenger in so many people’s life. For some of them you are just a good story to tell at dinner. For others you may be so much more. You have no idea actually how you get to touch people’s heart.
Illustrations and essay by Alina Ene
All images courtesy of the artist