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bicycles — The Meaningful Traveler


The full story – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 25, 2013

Shortly after having the mystery of the swerving bicyclist resolved by the sight of the little gray and white dog that followed him, we came across this bridge over the Main River in Frankfurt, Germany.

Locks on Bridge - Frankfurt, GermanyThe locks you see attached to the railing follow a trend started in Paris on a bridge over the River Seine. Couples write their names on the locks, attach them to the bridge, then throw the keys into the river to signify their undying love and commitment. In Paris, they get so many that they have to remove the railings every six months or so to keep the bridge from collapsing. My guess is that many of the locks outlast the relationships, but that’s another story.

Today, these locks remind me of a different kind of relationship.

We decided to visit Frankfurt on this vacation to Europe for one reason: to see the couple that have been family friends of ours for longer than I’ve been around.

I say “friends” but they are more than that. They are a couple, now in their 80’s and 90’s that my aunt and uncle first met in the 1950’s when the husband worked as a driver for one of the major car companies in Europe. He escorted not only my aunt and uncle but diplomats, business people and even famous actors all over the continent before opting for a more settled way of living with his wife in the 1960’s.

I spent my junior year in college, studying in Germany. Before classes began, I stayed with this couple for several months. Some of my best memories of that time in my life revolve around them. Now, decades later, my wife and two sons and I get to spend the day with them. We catch up on the present, remember the past and realize that, at their age, how uncertain the future seems.

We talk and talk. Later, we take a break in the afternoon to let them rest. That’s when we wandered along the river and saw the bridge, the locks, the bicyclist and his little gray and white dog.

During our conversations with them, we cover a range of subjects. At one point in our talk, I make, what I assume to be a mere statement of fact. I tell them that when I explain to friends at home why we’re in Frankfurt it is to visit, “my German parents.”

Simple words. An innocent phrase that is already familiar to me through usage at home. But to them, this is the first they have heard it. To them, it means much more than a mere description.

The wife tears up. She walks over and stands behind her sitting husband. She grips his shoulder. Leans in close so he can hear. Repeats the words just to be sure, “He said we are his German parents…” Together, they just nod for several silent moments. She then tells me the story of the son they had, born not long after I was. The son who died shortly after birth. Their only child.

“We are his German parents,” she says one more time to the husband. The fullness of her meaning is lost on none of us.


Because of the geographic distance and their advanced age, I don’t know if this is the last time we will see each other. The thought pierces and saddens me. Yet as I reflect on that, I know that our time together was enough.

Enough to say what needed to be said. To convey emotions always felt but never before overtly expressed.

We don’t always get to see the end of the story. On too many trips we’re left hanging and we have to trust God to complete what we cannot. But sometimes, as on this day, we’re given a gift.

Sometimes, we get to see the full story, be part of it. Tie up the loose ends. Experience completion.

Sometimes, like today, we get to see the little gray and white dog.


 If you haven’t yet, you should check out Part 1 and especially, Part 2

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Habits and their ways

by Steve Brock on July 25, 2013

Damme Trees

What’s wrong with this picture?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the bicyclists or the angle at which I shot the photo.

These trees are simply leaning in, like the way a dog tilts its head as it listens to a high-pitched sound.

We encountered these trees a few weeks ago on a bike ride outside of Bruges, Belgium as we neared the small village of Damme. Only in Dutch can you merely mention a town and sound like you’re swearing.

Apparently, the wind through that area is so consistent and pervasive that the trees have grown askew over the years, leaning to the side in a uniform sway. They didn’t get that way overnight but through long-term, persistent forces.

I realized on this trip to Europe that change for us is quite similar. I think back to when I was younger and the mere surprise and shock of a new place/culture or the distance from home on a trip was enough to create an often acute sense of change. Life transformation came fairly readily, or so it seemed at the time. But I’m not sure those so-called changes really stuck.

bent trees and bikes near BrugesThis trip, however, reminded me of the old adage that “no matter where you go, there you are.” There you are. You. Me. Our old selves. The ones we carry with us and can’t leave behind like an out-of-date suitcase or yesterday’s paper.

Just going away may make us aware of the rough edges in our lives. But changing them? That takes more than a trip or two. It takes work. It requires new habits.

If we really want to change, we’ll need to apply small but consistent efforts over time. A long time. We’ll have moments when things seem better. But also long stretches when nothing seems to budge.

Yet when we step back, we can see that time and effort can have a dramatic effect. If we cultivate the good habits, the holy habits and spiritual disciplines we know we need, then we see can positive changes. If not, we may one day wake up and realize how much we, like the trees near that Damme village (sorry, old habits – see? – die hard), have grown up in ways we didn’t expect or want.

Don’t get me wrong. Those trees seem to be doing quite well. And they’re rather beautiful in their distinctive tilt.

But that’s not how trees are meant to grow.


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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Part 5

by Steve Brock on November 7, 2012

My final (well, for now) life lesson from mountain biking is both my favorite and one of the hardest to perfect. All the other life lessons so far – discovering how going faster may be safer, finding your rhythm, focusing your attention and the non-intuitive nature of balance – are all learned behaviors. This final life lesson isn’t about learning something new but about remembering something old.

Or maybe, it’s about forgetting what gets in the way of what used to be second nature. In any case, it’s all about this simple lesson:

Relax and play.

As with turning, this lesson may not seem inherently logical at times. As I’m riding my mountain bike on trails, my initial reaction is to vise-grip the handlebars, clenching them like a lifeline as I fly down a steep slope over angry rocks and roots that I swear reach out for me as I pass. But the tighter I grab the grips or the stiffer I hold my body, the more punishment I take. Holding on tight makes the ride harder, not easier. Too much like work. Not enough like play.

If I relax my grip, loosen my stance and dance with the bike, I fly over the hard stuff, decrease the likelihood of a tumble and I have a much more enjoyable experience. Kids don’t have to be reminded to relax. Where did I forget this?

Mountain biking is really about goofing around in the dirt. Sure, you have a two-wheeled machine beneath you rather than a pail and a shovel in hand. But that same glee we experienced as a kid is ours for the taking. If we remember to forget.

Forget the fear. Forget about what you look like. Forget about what might happen. Relax. Play. Simply enjoy the ride.

I’ll let you make the connections here to travel and life. But ask yourself this: When’s the last time you played? Sheer, goofy, uninhibited play? Dancing like a maniac or running around whooping or “wasting” time doing something that makes you giggle like a five-year-old, something that causes you to forget about all those burdens that weigh you down as an adult?

Maybe today, this very day, you need to carve out just a few moments of time to remember to forget all the adult messages and rules that tell you how ridiculous and maybe even irresponsible it would be to relax and to simply play.

I’m finding that taking time to relax and play, on a mountain bike, on a trip or at those moments of time when I feel I can least afford to do so isn’t childish. In many cases, relaxing and playing turns out to be the most mature – and satisfying – thing I can do.

Try it.


Just for the fun of it.


If you haven’t already done so, check out the rest of this series: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4a and 4b

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Part 4b

by Steve Brock November 1, 2012

Bike riding, travel and life all reveal that balance may not be all we think it is. There might just be a better approach to pursue than balance. What is it?

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Part 4a

by Steve Brock October 24, 2012

Life lesson number 4 from mountain biking states that to turn, don’t actually turn your wheel. Instead, lean, using your whole body. Engage all of you. Just like with travel…

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 3

by Steve Brock October 16, 2012

Life Lesson 3, “Where you stare is where you steer” applies to mountain biking, work, travel and life. Focusing on what you want to avoid usually leads you smack into the place you didn’t want to go.

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 2

by Steve Brock October 10, 2012

In this 2nd life lesson from mountain biking we explore how finding your cadence or rhythm can make all the difference on a bike…or on a trip.

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