The Temperature of Kindness
(Ruth) For us, cycle touring means 6-8 hours on the bike most days. Sometimes we camp, other times we stay with Warmshowers' hosts and occasionally we treat ourselves to an Airbnb.
Wherever we stay, we’re spending the majority of our days outside. Much more than I ever did in London, where I would spend 8-10 hours in an office or studio. We’ve transitioned from a bitterly cold winter into a gentle spring and now signs of summer are here.
As the temperature changes, so does my mood. I wouldn’t say there's a clear pattern to map out, but the combination of heat, humidity and hills definitely doesn’t bring out the best in me. Our most heated and in hindsight, humorous arguments have been sweating at the top of hill - desperately seeking shade and somewhere to rehydrate.
The only argument to have topped these hot squabbles was during a lightning storm. It dramatically culminated in Oli getting lost in the labyrinth streets of Šibenik, standing on a rooftop in the rain and shouting my name whilst I ignored him, thinking I was hearing things.
Whilst it may have been a coincidence that our biggest blowout was during a storm, there is a lot to suggest that the weather impacts how we behave. I remember reading about a study that found a correlation between rising temperatures and civil unrest. Lance Workman found the likelihood of crime and riots increases between 27C and 32C – but after 32C, “it’s as though people are too hot to bother”. He hypothesised that an increase of serotonin caused by sunshine can lead to increased irritability. In extreme cases it can inflame groups and encourage mob mentality.
Without trying to use the weather to justify any upcoming bad moods I may have, it is something that seems to be taken very seriously in Croatia. As we cycled down the Dalmatian coast, talk of the wind became more and more frequent. Several locals told us how important the wind was in Dalmatia and how it can impact both health, happiness and food production.
The most common types of wind that people told us about are ‘bura’ and ‘jugo’. Bura blows from the north, sweeping over the Velebit mountains and out to the Adriatic sea. It’s most common in winter months and blows dry, cool air. It’s the best type of wind to dry pršut (Dalmatia’s cured ham) and it helps the production of the famous salted cheese on the Island of Pag. As Bura races across the Adriatic, it blows salt from the sea onto the island grass. When the sheep eat it, it gives their milk a delicately salty taste.
In contrast, Jugo is a damp wind, typically bringing with it heavy rain clouds and storms. It blows in from the south, traversing the islands and onto shore. Jugo is predictably less popular in Dalmatia. Many people believe Jugo causes low-moods, as well as aches and pains. It’s even been said that Jugo could be responsible for crime in the community.
I find the Dalmatian attention to the elements fascinating and I’m trying to keep a closer eye on how it impacts both me and Oli. I wonder what temperature is our ‘optimum' in terms of kindness to each other, ourselves and people we encounter. I’m definitely a lot more open to conversation when my upper lip isn't sweating or my toes aren’t freezing together. Perhaps understandably I’m at my best when I’m not thinking about how hot or cold I am.
Having said this, more extreme temperatures definitely encourages other people’s desire to help us. Lots of our hosts in the winter months told us they offered us a place to sleep because they wanted to get us out of the bitter wind and keep us warm. And now, as we crawl up hills in the heat, people have passed us water and fruit to help get us to the top. Whilst it might not always encourage connection from our end, more challenging temperatures seems to increase empathy from others.
As we approach the Albanian border and temperature rises I’m feeling optimistic. I know it’s going to get harder and we’ll have to get up at dawn to cycle before the midday heat, but the temperature also encourages us to stop and take in our environment. Countless people in Croatia and Montenegro have told us to take a pause and go slower in the sun. We have and it’s led to even more conversations and shared experiences with people we meet on the road. We may get to Istanbul a little later than expected but it’s definitely worth it.