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Photo by Adam Coppola
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.
The phrase might sound trite and overused, but standing at the edge of Crater Lake in Oregon will "take your breath away."
Then it was time for them to sing for us. They lined up and struggled through a couple of short songs. Then one of the teachers singled out one of the girls and called her to the front of the room.
She opened her mouth and a voice mature beyond her age filled the room. I still get goose bumps listening to it.
There is nothing, nothing better than an ice cream sandwich on a hot, sweaty summer day. Well, maybe a triple-scoop ice cream cone ... or two ... followed by a milk shake ... or two.
But take the bicycle trip out of the equation of the above photo (and scenario), and you just have three guys getting fat in a campground. Not a pretty picture.
You don't need to be an accomplished speaker, or be on an epic journey, to be an inspiration at a school. And you don't need to wait to be asked by a stranger on a scooter. Be the initiator.
If you are traveling by bike in a foreign land (or even your own country), stop at a local school and ask if they'd like you to talk about your travels. You'll be surprised how often your offer will be graciously accepted.
I will nominate the saddle above as the most uncomfortable bike seat I've ever encountered. The bike was parked among several hundred other single speed bikes in downtown Havana.
Instead of adult runners fleeing from thousands of pounds of angry bovines — you get scores of giggling kids running from realistic bull replicas rolling along on a bicycle tire.
Where do you want to travel? It is a simple question that I find many people don't ask themselves. What are your travel dreams? Pedaling across the U.S.? Your own state? Alaska to Tierra del Fuego? A grand world tour?
In the hot afternoon sun in northern Laos, Kat and I took a break mid-span on a bridge crossing a river. The river was smooth. Barely a ripple. And the water was slate gray/green in color.
We heard laughter upriver and saw something floating toward us.