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Photo by Adam Coppola
The west coast in the Alentejo offers dramatic cliffs, stunning views, and little-to-no traffic. You'll have to work to get there. Due to the topography, there isn't a long continuous coast-hugging route. But the small sections that are accessible by bicycle are well worth the effort.
I'd always heard that the Algarve region in Portugal was beach resorts and concrete, connected by too much asphalt. Kat and I were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a sign for an Ecovia. Ecovias are bike routes that use already existing smaller roads and dirt paths to create an alternative route through the Algarve.
We had left the main highway for a smaller road to avoid truck traffic. But here one came--a large, over-sized truck. We did a double take as it got closer. This truck's payload was enormous.
Do cyclists eat to ride or ride to eat. All I know is that stopping at a cafe or bakery is an essential part of any ride. A cafe follows a bicycle ride as naturally as "c" follows "b" in the alphabet.
I've been chased by every breed of dog on the planet, from Chihuahuas to Kangal Dogs. Every traveling cyclist has their own method for dealing with canines.
Thirty seconds max. That's all it took from the time we saw the peloton approaching till the time it had whizzed by.
You might have gathered from my previous nine posts on bicycle camping that a tent is at the top of my "essentials list" for bicycle travel. I know that I am far from alone in this thought. But I bet there are few bicycle travelers out there who have had a song about a tent sung at their wedding.
For most touring cyclists, camping is a rural experience. A tent comes in handy out in the country. You set it up in a designated county, state or federal campground ... or on farmland, forest or fairgrounds.
Our tent had always remained stuffed in our panniers while we were in the city.
We explained our plight. There was a campground several miles down the road, but we didn't feel safe on the road. We asked if we could pitch our tent on her land.
She pondered a bit and then nodded "yes". She pointed out back.
New Zealand is an outdoor person's dream come true. I spent the first three weeks traveling with a childhood buddy and the remaining four months pedaling solo.
My bike and my gear had never been heavier. But I didn't mind. Inside of my rear panniers were hiking boots and a full-sized backpack in a compression sack.
Cuba. The beach. A resort hotel. At $75 a night, not a bad choice, especially when the package deal includes meals and drinks.
Then there is the frugal cyclist's alternative. A tent. Pitched not far from the resort hotel. Cost? Free.
The humble tent. A budget extender if there ever was one. If I had stayed in hotels throughout my bike trip in South Africa, my journey would have lasted three weeks ... tops. But through the magic of poles and fabric, my journey lasted five months.
Wild camping is usually as easy as pulling off the road and finding a flat, secluded spot.
Not so in Laos. In a country with the distinction of having the worst unexploded ordinance problem in the world, you don't casually wander off the road and pitch a tent.
I spotted a beautiful tree and what looked to be a flat patch of earth surrounding it. I hiked up the steep grade, and discovered that the view was stunning. I hiked back down and announced to Kat that the site was indeed camp worthy.
Now we just had to get our bikes and gear up there. It took six trips and almost an hour to haul our bikes and panniers up to our Andes perch.
I didn't realize until later that I had roommates — hundreds of mosquitoes, lurking behind tattered curtains and dusty bed covers. Normally, I'd shut the doors and windows and then go on a mosquito killing spree. But the room was insanely hot and there was no glass in the window openings ... only bars.
My next several posts will be about bicycle camping ... the good, the bad and the ugly.
I'll begin with one of the best. A campsite I'd go back to tonight, if it wasn't 6,300 miles away (as the crow flies).
Want to send an unforgettable birthday gift that will also be a lasting travel memory? Give an audio birthday card. It's cheap and fun.
Choose someone you love (motivation) and make sure you travel with some sort of audio recording device.
That's me. On my bike. On Earth.
The artist is Zak and he attends a primary school in Washington state where I presented an assembly entitled "The World's Greatest SUV". It introduces kids to the magic and wonders of bicycle travel.
"Daddy, you ain't gonna believe this. There's a man in bicycle britches at the door, lookin' for a place to camp." That had to be my favorite snippet I heard during our bicycle trip across the Deep South.
Stereotypes breed best when folks have had no contact with the real place or people the stereotypes reference. Real life isn't as black and white as the media would like us to believe.
But even if you have a beautiful porch, you're not likely to sit out on it when it is 42 degrees Fahrenheit. When the sun came out, so did the locals. I describe one of our encounters to Bob.
Whether your bike travel route is mountainous, hilly, or as flat as a pancake ... you will most certainly ride the roller coaster; the emotional roller coaster.
My first trip had ignited a passion for bicycle travel. My country defined by the incredible people that we encountered along the way. Invitations into homes, meals, hugs and kisses goodbye with folks who had been strangers only twelve hours prior ... well, if you've bicycle toured, you know all about it.
We began our Deep South bicycle trip by transporting ourselves and our tandem in a Ford Taurus without a rack. Quite the impossible task unless you have a Rodriguez 8-Ball tandem with S&S couplings.
As much as I love bicycles and cycling, it is the connections with people on my travels that I treasure most.
In 2001 Kat and I cycled through the Deep South. Our 2,000 mile journey aired as commentaries on public radio station KUOW in Seattle. The commentaries were written in the form of letters to my friend Bob Nadir.