14 September 2012

Written by Natascha Deininger, Young Friends of the Earth Scotland

As you read this, thirty pairs of legs are peddling up green mountains and hills, passing through lush valleys, and gliding alongside pristine rivers in the European landscape, rejoicing in the overwhelming beauty of our shared continent. Oh wait, sorry - error. Actually, most of the time the views on offer are of industrial landscapes, zombie-apocalypse-ready suburban wastelands and tarmac-smacked tourist flooded coastal lines that look like a robot had been asked to draw a picture of a bunker on a beach. But the Ecotopia Bike Tour does not try to avoid all that - even if frequent mishaps in the route planning lead to circumventing destinations. Rather, a group of people are coming together to build a practical alternative to an all-inclusive trip to the beach by self-organising a tour, year for year, which brings together ideas of sustainability, anti-consumerism and the good ol' cause of justice (however you've repackaged it) - all while traveling on the same concrete-happy roads as the rest of the world. The Ecotopia Bike Tour wants YOU (to peddle)!

This year, the tour started in Barcelona at the beginning of July and, having passed through Catalonia and France, will arrive in Venice this September. Along the way, the tour visits projects which are working towards making a change on many levels, including farming cooperatives, self-sufficient communities, social squats and bike workshops. Here, people lend a helping hand and learn - about new tools, ways of organising and what things like perma-culture ACTUALLY ARE. The group also shares all its resources - pooling money, cooking meals collectively, and exchanging knowledge and skills through workshops and presentations. Decisions are made by consensus, and anybody can join along the way.

The Bike Tour is not new - it has been around for over twenty years, undergoing several face-lifts and identity crises along the way. 'What is Bike Tour?' is a question you might hear asked frequently in a variety of accents, especially when activities range from electrifying workshops with very tired people, cooking a hundred meals a day on a rocket stove, making funny hand-signals during 'circles', to the more cycle-and-consume style days spent on the beach. The group is confronted by many issues - how do we organise? How can we take action against the destruction of our planet and the injustice which continues in so many aspects of modern living? And why didn't food group buy more porridge? On an organic farm near Barcelona, the group stood on a field admiring aubergine plants while to the east a cement factory was churning out fumes on a frightening scale, three lane highways were hugging the farm, and a housing development was threatening the land towards the west. It was pretty easy to feel small and cornered. However, here is a sobering thought to share: the bike tour is exactly what we made it into, - we let it develop by practically implementing our ideals every day. When I think of the Young Friends of the Earth Europe network, the issues we take on, it reminds me that we can change things for the better. We just need to put our hands to it.

The Ecotopia Bike Tour will be cycling through Europe again next year, exact times and locations yet to be discussed. Check the blog for updates and get involved!