We finish our seasons late in the calendar year, and that’s when it’s time to reflect on the days spent riding the bike with guests in the evening light, in gluttonous enjoyment of a coastline picnic, or in the nights spent working behind the scenes, sweating, preparing every last detail.
Being a guide is a dream. Just like a dream, though, there are moments of surreal beauty, where I pinch myself because I’m so lucky, and moments where I feel like nothing more than a vagabond, wandering from road to road, without a home to speak of.
A season of nights can be remembered in two ways. Long nights linger throughout a guide’s season, presenting sleep debt that appears every morning like the crust in your eye: it’s a gross, immovable feature of guiding that invites itself into your morning routine. Late night hours accumulate on dark, drizzling drives across the French Alps, or in bike repair sessions that endure until a new feature of bicycle mechanics is finally mastered. These nights of bleary eyes and greasy fingers hit in the morning like a middle-aged hangover. They metastasize over weeks upon weeks through the summer rush. For the rest of the season you can point to them as the reason you need just 30 more minutes of sleep. I awake each morning with the simple joy to have a job that is perpetual adventure: that fortuity is laced into the first minutes of my day, but it cannot always soothe the need for a long night of rest, or a slow morning with too much coffee and a sojourn through the news to nullify my accrued fatigue.
There are other nights, however, that are not pernicious. With co-guides as my partners in crime, we spent last season’s nights in 12th-century castle ruins perched atop the bluffs looming over the Danube, and watched the moon drift across the valley; we wended our way through herds of Prague’s revelers until the early morning and devoured fried-cheese sandwiches to bridge dinner and breakfast. Every guide cobbles together nights of extemporaneous adventure: In the evenings they become impromptu wedding guests, and dinner dates for the stars, or might just end the wee hours vaulting over fences or hailing the relics of rock and roll’s saints. These nocturnal voyages stoke the engine driving us through our season. They are filled with electricity, are stolen moments from a history and a place that never expected us, and remind us that rapture can be found in the time between the days filled with purpose, agendas and goals.
These evening escapades are archived in the Trek Travel legacy at the end of the season when guides float back to the guide house to eddy-out. We all come with the excuse to catch a night of rest and reclaim cached belongings, but the real purpose is to relish the scuttlebutt from everyone’s season.
I feasted my first night back at the Tuscany guide house last season with a table full of guides, tortellini, and gas-station wine. What started as dinner became a jam session for raconteurs who had repressed the parts of the job that percolate when the season ends: too many missed weddings, too few evening chats with a spouse, wearing the same pair of trousers packed and unpacked in countless hotel rooms, and the claustrophobia from sharing long days in the same van, hotel room, bathroom, bedroom, bike path, breakfast table and dining room with somebody else every day of the season.
The ineffable beauty of this job is the family of companions that emerges from the chaos and stress of life on the road. Within that family is a cast of saviors that cart other drained and reeking guides from Megeve to Geneva to arrive in time for a date, conjure gourmet dinners from melons and mint to serve starving colleagues, or otherwise provide the lost features of “normal life” to professional vagabonds.
At the end of a full season, after leaving the various guide houses to return home, we are supposed to resume something that feels more permanent. But we are visitors here for only a few months. The season begins again when the days get longer in Spain, and heats up to a full thrust when the sun warms the rest of Europe. Until then home feels idle, like an indictment of “normal”, and easily defined as just a “time in-between.” It is a purgatory released by the memory of seized moments that incite us to new adventures. Is it time to get back yet? Is it time to start adventuring again?
Written by Sam Clark, Trek Travel Guide
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