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Photo by Adam Coppola
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.
It's the time of year when holiday tunes are playing everywhere. But sometimes when you are traveling far away from home in another culture, hearing a Christmas carol or familiar song can be a wonderful reminder of home ... or not.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the few racing cyclists I met while I was in Cuba was a young man named Alexie. He came over to chat with me in a small town in the province of Pinar del Rio (west of Havana).
I thought he was interested in my bike. It was a Rodriguez, which is a common surname in Cuba. But I later found out he wasn’t interested in the frame or the brakes or the tires. He was interested in one of my water bottles.
The whole morning we struggled to push our bicycles up the steep mountain pass.
We heard the tinkling of bells, high up above our tent site in eastern Turkey. It had to be a flock of sheep or goats ... or both. But we scanned the steep mountains around us and couldn't make out anything a thousand feet above our campsite.
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.