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Photo by Adam Coppola
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.
There were no signs. We pedaled 50 yards along what looked to be a trail. It dead ended in a marsh. We were disappointed, but the traffic out on the road wasn't bad. We hadn't pedaled more than a quarter mile when Kat said, "There's got to be a trail back there. We just missed it."
What I've discovered in my travels, is the more amenities listed above that are available in my/our lodging experience, the less likely I'll write or speak about it. Great hotels and campgrounds are lovely, but they make for boring stories. Gee that jacuzzi sure was swell, blah, blah, blah.
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!
The top of the sign highlights animals that could trample you, while the bottom of the sign is reserved for animals that could eat you. I assume the sign designed for cyclists would have three exclamation points.
Kids on Bikes! They make me smile. They give me hope for the future.
Have you ever in your bike touring experience asked yourself this question: How am I going to get my mail? If you began bike touring within the last ten years, your answer will revolve around internet access and wi-fi availability.
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.
It boggles my mind to imagine how many walls I've leaned my bike against. And the closer I get to a wall, the better I like the view. Many walls can look mundane from a distance. Their beauty is revealed only upon closer inspection.
Walls make excellent photo subjects. They stand still. They never tire. And they don't even mind if you lean your bicycle against them while you find just the right angle.
If I were to attempt this dance, there would be much yelling and cursing from my fellow dancers, as my stick connected with flesh rather than wood. My partner would be the one with swollen knuckles and bandages on his head.
There is slightly less pain in the world because I took up bicycle touring, rather than stick dancing.
Let's get right into the down and dirty of bicycle touring. What about laundry?
If you are on a route with plenty of hotels and/or laundromats, the answer is pretty obvious. But what about those journeys far enough off the beaten track where laundry facilities are not an option?
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.
In southeast Oregon there is a fabulous day ride (Diamond Loop Tour). Although this loop is promoted as a driving tour, Kat and I encountered only a dozen vehicles as we pedaled through the high desert on mostly unpaved roads.
We encountered an historic round barn, amazing volcanic formations, and plenty of bird life. Landscape that appeared stark and barren at first glance, became a kaleidoscope of colors, as the sun played hide and seek with thunderclouds.
Late in the afternoon, Kat noticed something on the edge of the opposite side of the road and crossed over to investigate. What she found was tragic and beautiful at the same time.
I came upon two boys in South Africa. The sun was getting low in the sky and I was concerned about finding a place to camp. But I had to stop and check out their vehicle. The older boy was pushing his friend along the road. They were both laughing.
I love hearing stories well told. Spinning a yarn is a gift, and this man has it. Kat and I were cycling in the Deep South and camped in the yard of two delightful hosts. Late in the evening, sitting around their kitchen table, I asked the gentleman to tell me a story off the top of his head. It ended up being about an experience he had while hunting wild hog.
"Give the world outside a point of entry. It'll give back to you."
That lyric stuck in my soul the first time I heard it in Larry Murante's title song of his album Point of Entry.
Music is an incredible force, and each listener interprets what they hear in their own way. Words can be heard and quickly forgotten, but put them to music, and they will most likely be with you forever.