Making Friends on the Internet
(Ruth) My teenage years coincided with the birth of Facebook. Before then the internet seemed much less prevalent in our lives. No smartphones, no google maps. Our search engine was ‘Ask Jeeves’ and I don’t think anyone asks him anything anymore.
There was Myspace (where I was anxious about who should make my ’top 8’ friends list). Then MSN Messenger (where I was anxious about curating a witty but relaxed username) and chat rooms, where I was just anxious.
So when one of our friends decided she wanted to meet someone from a chatroom IRL, it was a big deal. The message ‘you never know who you’re talking to’ had been drilled into our subconscious.
She did it anyway. And, as dutiful and nosey friends, a gang of five of us insisted on coming with her. We kept our distance, but close enough that she could signal to us if needs be. All I remember is the girl she met wore a Motörhead t-shirt and looked nervous behind thick black eyeliner. Aside from that, she seemed like a regular functioning human.
Over ten years later, we’ve met dozens of people from the internet on this trip. The most useful online community for us is warmshowers.org. It’s kind of like Couchsurfing but for cyclists hosting other cyclists.
6 weeks into our adventure and we’ve stayed with families, couples, house shares and single people across 6 different countries. All have been incredibly kind and welcoming. Better than just a bed for the night, we’ve made friends with people we never would have met without the internet. We've shared stories, food and advice about our journey ahead.
But the best part is being invited into pockets of communities that we didn’t know existed. We danced the ‘disco fox’ at a ‘Wine and Groove’ night with Vera and Jorg in rural Germany. Luca and Andrea opened their ice-cream parlour for us after dark in Italy and Alberto and Sabrina invited us to their families Easter lunch. There were 17 family members from 3 generations. The two Grandmothers made lasagne and Easter cake. The Grandfathers poured us grappa and espresso.
Perhaps my favourite pocket was the table football league with Roberto in Nuvolato . When he invited us along I assumed it would be a low-key affair so I didn’t worry about my lack of hand-eye coordination skills.
When we arrived, there were 36 men ready to play ball. I counted four who had brought their own gloves. Several had leather tape to wrap around the handles for extra grip and there were cans of WD40 on each table to grease the poles in between rounds. One man had brought a moist towel to place behind his neck when playing.
Oli and ‘Roth’ were added to the league table and we waited nervously for our turn. In the background Italy VS England was playing on the TV. England were a goal up. When we were called to the table, we shook hands with our opponents and pieced together the rules of the game through broken English.
My hands wouldn’t move quick enough to instruct the little plastic figures to kick in time. Oli helped hold up the fort in goal but his featureless team mates were also sluggish in comparison to the Italians.
Incredibly, we started to score some points. The crowd were surprised and started cheering us on. We won the game 7-5 .Oli lifted me up as people clapped and shouted things in Italian. I felt invincible.
It turns out that they let us win and we proceeded to lose every game following this victory. But, it was a great night. Come midnight we were still there. We were handed two medals with the words ‘ultimate classifacto’ printed on to them. It means ‘the last place.
Roberto, our host, made it to the final. He asked if we wanted to stay and watch but it was heading towards 1 am and we were exhausted from a days riding. Roberto dropped us at his home before heading back to the league. He played until 3 am. The next morning he looked tired but had a big smile on his face.