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Photo by Adam Coppola
Just how many times did I say "hello" today? I asked myself that question recently in Cambodia (where we are currently cycling). We have been greeting warmly everywhere in this country, but while cycling the tiny roads and paths along The Mekong, the greeting got intense.
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.
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.