The Adventure Cycling blog covers bicycle-travel news, touring tips and gear, bicycle routes, organizational news, membership highlights, guided tours, and more. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.
Photo by Adam Coppola
The smell of wood smoke is in the air along with the squeals of little pigs darting across the road. The roads had wound up and down for days (500-foot to 2,000-foot climbs all day long) as we crossed from one river drainage to the next. There were no restaurants or stores to be found, so we asked a local if she would cook us breakfast. She held a newborn in one arm as she fried up spicy eggs with greens and sticky rice over a wood fire. We kept glancing up to see dozens of kids peeking in to see the foreigners. We emerged out into the brilliant blue sky of the highlands of northern Laos.
It is 2:00 am in the little town of Remedios. The Las Parrandas festival has been raging since early evening. The contest pits the two main barrios in town (San Salvador and Carmen) against each other in a show of pageantry, music, lights, and fireworks. Thousands of people have crammed into the town square for the festivities, and Kat is somewhere on the other side of the square with my recorder and microphone collecting sounds.
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!
Kids on Bikes! They make me smile. They give me hope for the future.
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.
Sometimes I look back over my trip photos and wonder, "Did I take that?"
The above image fits in that category. It's India. It's in my trip folder. Then it dawns on me that even though I was on a solo trip, I didn't take the photo ... because I'm IN it.
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.
A good pair of binoculars can be a weighty item to add to full panniers. But the few times I've elected to leave them behind, I've regretted doing so. They are for the birds. Literally.
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.
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.