Sometimes you just luck out and end up at the right place at the right time. So it was last Sunday evening in Paysandu, when we stumbled across a group of Candombe musicians rehearsing for the upcoming Carnival celebrations.
Candombe originated when African slaves brought their dances and percussion music to South America. Candombe rhythms are produced by drum ensembles, known as cuerdas. That’s what we’d stumbled across, quite by accident.
Traditionally, Candombe drummers and dancers assemble in the evening and perform under the moon lit sky.
That evening down by the port in Paysandu was my first experience with Candombe, and it was a magical moment. The Cuerda slowly made its way down a broad avenue, surrounded by neighborhood people tapping their feet and moving to the rhythm of Candombe. Everyone just let loose and let themselves be taken over by the rhythms. I trotted alongside with my camera trying --not very successfully-- to capture the spirit of the moment.
Although my photography efforts didn’t amount to much, the music succeeded in lifting my spirits and distracting me from a sinking feeling that I’m suffering from Bicycle Touring Burnout.
Listening to Candombe masked the lousy feelings for a while, but as soon as the drums stopped beating I started thinking. Too much, and too negative.
Mostly I was subjected to an annoying little voice taunting me with phrases like, “You’re wasting your time. There’s more to life than riding a bike. You’re gonna hate Patagonia. It’s cold. It’s windy. It’s just one great expanse of comfortless nothingness. It’s not normal to spend 24 hours a day with the same person for years on end. You need your space.”
You get the picture. Not very uplifting thoughts with which to fill one’s mind.
I was in a funk, so I did what anybody with a laptop and an internet connection would do. I consulted Google. This is what I learned from helpguide.org. Burnout signs and symptoms:
You may be on the road to burnout if:
- Every day is a bad day.
- Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
- You’re exhausted all the time.
- The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
- You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.
I set out to see if I met the requirements.
1. Honestly, every second of every day is not bad. How could it be? That kind of utter unhappiness would be well-nigh impossible on a bike tour. My days swing into gear with spectacular sunrises and come to an end lingering over the sunset. Complete strangers shower me with amazing kindness. My efforts are rewarded with scenery that could humble even the most jaded cyclist.
2. Requirement two, on the other hand, is a toss up. Pedaling like some mad fool all around the planet does strike me (at times ) as an utter waste of energy. Does it really matter if I cycle 100 kilometers or a 100,000 kilometers? Expanding horizons and building bridges to other cultures is wonderful, but when you get right down to it, we’re just cranking the pedals most of the time.
3. Requirement three hits the nail on the head. No way do I have the energy I had in Africa. The alarm still starts squawking at a little past 5 AM, but now I just roll over and ignore it. I whine about the hills and the weight and stop every 5 kilometers to make sure I don’t have a flat. ‘There must be something wrong with the bike. It’s not moving fast enough. Check the brakes, I’m sure they’re rubbing. I know you checked them 10 minutes ago, but really there’s something wrong. The bike just won’t go like it used to. And no, the problem is not me.’
4. The act of pedaling for 6 + hours a day can be mind-numbingly boring. Dull, faceless cities of concrete that sprawl into eternity. Bleak landscapes of unending bush. Rotten roads and insane drivers making life miserable. T he first hour I’m loving it, the second hour’s still pretty good, the third hour’s not so bad, but by the fourth hour time starts to crawl and well, after that, it’s just a question of hunkering down and telling yourself you will cycle till that kilometer counter reaches 100.
Of course, there are the soaring peaks and empty backroads to balance things out. The tailwinds that push you along so you fly down the road.
Of course, there are the people you meet. The cool Couchsurfers who open your mind to new ideas, the random guy on the ranch who invites you in, starts telling you stories and has you laughing silly within minutes.
And as for overwhelming, well, life on a bike is pretty simple. You’ve got just 6 bags stuffed full of all your possessions. You eat porridge for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and spaghetti for dinner. The most pressing decisions to make are when and where to call it quits for the day and if it’ll be Highway 17 or County Route 7.
5. Alright, the final question and it looks like I fail the burnout quiz. Cyclists are an appreciative bunch, and there’s often an email of thanks waiting in the inbox. Who wouldn’t feel good about that?
So maybe I’m not afflicted with Bicycle Touring Burnout. Just suffering from the normal ups and downs of life on the road. The best cure is probably a long look at all our tour photos and some time spent reflecting on all the moments that made me love bicycle touring in the first place. That Candombe helped. I think I’ll make it to Patagonia after all.