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Photo by Adam Coppola
Last week I confessed my obsession of photographing house numbers during our bike journey in Portugal.
I realize the short "video" might have had a certain entertainment value, but probably fell far short of convincing the viewer that they should hop on a bike and tour there.
While we were pedaling in Portugal, I started noticing house numbers. In the small villages, most weren't generic, but often obviously fashioned by the home owner. I began taking photos of them. Then I got obsessed.
In Thailand, we didn't meet many foreign cyclists on the road (at least on the routes we pedaled), so we got wonderful reactions from motorists. But never honks. The people of Thailand are some of the most polite drivers on the planet.
So when we heard someone honk as they passed it startled us. Then the next car honked as well. And the next. And the next. Were our bikes too close to the road? But each car only honked once or twice. And the occupants were smiling. We smiled and waved back. For the next thirty minutes it was like being on a parade route. We waved at every car and every car celebrated our journey in Thailand with polite honking.
Why can't I pass one without stopping and snapping a few shots? Maybe it's the realization that after all the dreaming and scheming and planning, we are finally there. In some magical foreign place, filled with new sights and sounds and smells.
I always smile when I look at this photo. It was taken many years ago, but it feels like I snapped it yesterday.
It was early morning in India in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Lots of climbing, steep grades, and snow on the ground. I pedaled up to this tiny roadside store to buy a cup of hot chai to warm my hands and get my daily sugar rush.
I've heard it said, "If you listen closely ... you just might hear your priorities."
Donuts. Pastries. Cookies. Fudge. Croissants. Scones. If I didn't ride a bicycle, I'd probably tip the scales at 600 lbs.
I truly feel sorry for people who have only observed the world from the seat of a speeding car. It all becomes a blur. The pace of bicycle travel suites me. But even pedaling can propel you too quickly through your surroundings.
But of all the maps I have (and I have boxes full of them), I do have a favorite. It is no bigger than three by four inches. It was drawn for me by a man I met on the road in South Africa.
I live in the insanely beautiful Pacific Northwest. Due to our cloudy skies and somewhat damp weather (even in July), the color pallet can be quite muted — dark greens, blues, and greys.
So when I travel, I am drawn to the opposite. The rich and vibrant, almost electric colors that you will find on the houses in Cuba, in the shops in Bangkok, and in the markets in India.
I am amazed at how many bike travelers hop on their bikes for a day's ride and rarely stop. Sure, they might stop to fix a flat or to take off a jacket, or to pause to look at their map. But "lingering" isn't in their vocabulary. They zoom to their next destination and check into a hotel or campsite.
Thirty years ago (tomorrow). I left Seaside, Oregon with my buddy Thomas to cycle across America. July 2, 1981. Almost 11,000 days have passed since we dipped our rear tires in the Pacific Ocean. Hard to believe. In some ways it really does feel like it was yesterday.
There is an art to knowing which travel advice to embrace and which to ignore.
Every touring cyclist has had the experience of some local telling them that the road up ahead is flat, only to discover that it is hillier beyond belief. Or that the next town is just over the ridge, when there are three ridges to climb over.
It's pretty obvious that the songwriter was speaking of unrequited love. But I'd like you to consider it written about you and your travel dreams.
Can you relate to the above lyrics when it comes to that bicycle trip? Always thinking, planning and dreaming, but never going? Are you one to always answer the call of the road with "perhaps"?
I've lost count of the number of times I've jumped off my bicycle and raced to get that perfect sunset shot, only to be disappointed with the results. The images are usually washed out and boring; nothing like the dramatic event I witnessed in person.
That high-pitched whine is annoying at least and terrifying at most, in malarial areas of the world. I suppose we are genetically engineered to respond to that awful sound.
We passed the sign above on our trip in Portugal. It was the entrance to a big highway ... not a road we wanted to travel on anyway.
I particularly enjoy the way the wheel on the wagon makes the sign look like a cartoon figure sticking its tongue out at you. Signs are important. They give instruction and information. They warn you not to proceed, or they lead the way.
Coasting — to effortlessly glide down the backside of a mountain pass after grunting up to the summit — is one of the ultimate rewards of cycling. What is the perfect downhill?
It's May. It's National Bike Month. Let's celebrate it!
The bicycle is an incredible form of transportation. It moves people quietly and efficiently across town or across the country. It runs on a delicious combination of fuels including pasta, ice cream, and beer. No wars have been fought over it. No neighborhoods torn down to accommodate it.
If I had to choose one photo I've taken that captures the view of the world you get when you travel by bicycle, this is it.
Up close and intense.
It's 1995. Nelson Mandela has been president for less than a year. I'm on a five-month bike trip in South Africa, where I'm told by dozens, no, hundreds of people that if I travel in the former homelands that I'm a dead man. Period.
A policeman stopped our progress through the small town of Manteigas, Portugal. There was no traffic -- no apparent accident or emergency. We parked our bikes and waited.
The photos in catalogs of bike rides and tours and special package trips are filled with blue skies and sun-drenched vistas.
But let's pause for a little reality check. Weather happens. Blue skies turn gray. Weather forecasts are often painfully wrong. Everyone wants a trip with perfect weather, but everyone's best stories and memories are more often than not, centered around less than perfect conditions.
We followed the directions and soon found ourselves on a separated concrete path in the middle of four lanes of highway. But rather than being filled with glee, we were depressed. We were alone. We encountered not a single cyclist, and only one pedestrian in over 15 kilometers. And yet, we were completely surrounded by traffic. Thousands and thousands of vehicles spewing exhaust while limping along in a never-ending traffic jam.
By conservative estimates, I drank nearly one thousand cups of chai during my 5-month bike journey in India. Every chai seller (like the one in the photo above) has his or her own recipe, but the basics are tea, milk, spices and as much sugar as will hold in solution.