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Photo by Adam Coppola
I call this photo Candy Break. I’m at a small roadside store (a shack dangerously perched on the side of the narrow winding road) high up in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. It is early morning and I’m in search of chocolate. Most of the desserts in India are insanely sweet even for a sweet tooth like mine, and I’m losing too much weight. I discover a chocolate bar that most merchants carry, and I eat at least five a day.
We are lying down on the cool tile floor of the kitchen. The smell of fresh tortillas mingles with perfume. A conversation on the side of the road while cycling down the Baja Peninsula led to an invitation to Adriano’s place in La Paz.
I have thousands and thousands of images from my bicycle travels throughout the world -- boxes and binders filled with color slides and folders of digital images of street scenes, flowers, sunsets, roads, and landscapes. Each photo represents a moment in time and travel that I deemed worthy of capturing. Yet, if you randomly selected an image and asked for my reaction, it just might be, “I took that?”
I'm not a big organized bike ride guy. Most of my riding has been solo or very small group travel (like two people). But when I heard the concept behind "The Passport to Pain," I couldn't resist signing up. The ride had at least three things going for it. It was close (Vashon Island is a ferry ride away from my home in Seattle). It was one day (pain is best in limited doses). And it was creative (the concept is brilliant).
If you were speeding along in a car on the road from Haines to Haines Junction in Alaska, the above scene might seem normal -- a young kid on a bike pedaling up the driveway, the American and Alaska state flags flying. You might wonder why the family had a phone both out by the road.
Every bicycle journey has a theme song. At least all of mine do. A tune that fits the mood of the journey ... or describes the place you are pedaling through ... or sometimes it's just the tune that is incessantly playing on every radio.
Kat and I got out of the city (Seattle) last weekend. We took the Amtrak (reserved two spots on the luggage car bike rack) up to Bellingham with plans to bike out to Birch Bay. Not far out of Bellingham our map indicated a bike trail that ran along the Nooksack River. We always enjoy the opportunity to get off the road, so we pulled into an empty gravel parking lot.
Sometimes our super-saturated, media-driven world can get me down. The sheer amount of bad news one can ingest in a single day via the internet, radio and television can be overwhelming. That's when I want to get on my bike and ride.
Campfires. I have always loved them. Loved the heat they provide. The crackle that fills the otherwise stillness of night. The hypnotic dancing of flames that can hold my attention longer than most feature films. I even love the pungent smell that lingers on your clothes long after the last embers fade.
Time is money. Which is a good thing, because I have a whole lot more time than the green stuff. Carrying a tent has always been the great bicycle journey budget stretcher. The cost of hotels can be pricey. On a three month trip, that cost can be devastating. Especially if you are traveling in a part of the world where lodging is expensive.
I know that nutritionists will cringe, but as a touring cyclist I consider ice cream as the Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner of Champions. It should have its own food group category. Ice cream companies should set aside a day each year to celebrate and thank touring cyclists. We are a ravenous revenue source!
In the 2011 Oct/Nov issue of Adventure Cyclist I wrote a column titled The Decision. It got a lot of responses. I recently read the column on Weekday, a show on public radio station KUOW in Seattle.
There are certain places on this planet where I've cycled that will always have a soundtrack associated with them. Not the traditional soundtrack of a film, but the sounds directly associated with the location.
If you don't have the time to spare for a extended bike trip, you can get loads of inspiration on Bike Overnights.org. But sometimes you can't even afford an overnight. That's the time to head out on a bike breakfast.
Some travel memories are sharp and clear. They stick with you. Ten years later you can recall an event or place or personal exchange as if it happened yesterday.
Others blur and fade and mix with other memories of events, places, trips, and people encountered along the way.
The smiles of the men in this picture, enjoying a beer after a long bike ride, help make up my mental collage of Colombia. They flew by us in a tightly packed pace line as we pedaled our heavily loaded, lumbering touring bikes out of Bogotá. Waves and smiles and they were gone.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The whole morning we struggled to push our bicycles up the steep mountain pass.
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.
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.