Friends with benefits

Memories can be vivid. I was wearing a purple knit sweater that last day of the year. The same one I wore on every other day of that breathtaking trek through the Patagonian Torres del Paine National Park. Five days of tough ascents and mind blowing views that came with every conquered elevation.

We climbed cliffs while condors drifted past, setting a breeze in motion with only a sparse movement of their immense wingspan. Narrow trails led us to ever closer views of those majestic granite Towers of Paine. In the evening we satisfied our hunger with tin can dinners of tuna and beans, before setting up camp on the ridges of massive glaciers. That Patagonian vastness. That was something else.

The nights were rocky. A few hours of solid sleep alternated with exhausting bouts of trying to keep our body temperatures up in tents we bought down at the local supermarket. Summer in Patagonia is a relative concept. After five days, every joint in my body was twice the size it was before. Swollen, painful, hard to use. I felt and looked like one of those Michelin men you can see bouncing in the wind along some French B-route heading south.

In the last few hours of that fifth day we ended up rushing down the final slope, dropping our backpacks at the hostel and immediately set off again. A shower would have been the ultimate luxury but the 23pm on the clock had us worried about two even more fundamental things: 1) getting some - any - nutrition into our worn systems and 2) making it in time for New Year's Eve. We did manage to find a restaurant that was willing to serve us some leftover food and ended up at a rave in the outskirts of town that lasted till way past dawn. One of those nights you won't forget.

But what stood out most for me on that trip, even more so than the stunning scenery, was the company. I walked these rocky trails with five people I only met three days before we set off. We shared food, packs, tents, and a roller coaster of emotions. The fact that we all came from completely different backgrounds didn't mean squat. We had our love for exploration and shared appreciation for silly jokes, and that was all we needed.

In that sense cycling can be a lot like traveling. Conscious choice or not, we tend to surround ourselves with similar people in life: based on chosen profession, friends we made in school, the places we live. This all disappears on the bike. You hook up with friends of friends, or even strangers. You might have casual conversations about work or other interests besides cycling. But that really doesn't matter, does it.

The main attraction is sharing a love for something that is a vital part of both your lives. Lives that might be completely different as soon as you dismount your saddles. But here's the thing: your commitment doesn't have to transcend those few hours or days you do share together. You're friends with benefits. No strings attached, just cycling.

I've met quite a few of those over the last few years. Some have, or will become real friends, with some I've just shared a one time ride. Fact is that cycling brought up a whole range of interesting people I would otherwise not have met, and a whole lot of colorful memories that can never be replaced.

Back to those purple sweater days: do I still see those five lovely goons? No, I don't. We kept in touch for quite some years though. Strong memories forge strong bonds. But as it goes: what isn't being fed, slowly withers. Life in a nutshell. The memories remained however, and those will last a lifetime.

[and yes, pun intended ;-)]