Travels with Willie: Seven Wanders

Sep 28th, 2018

If I asked you to list the Seven Wonders of the World, would you be able to do it?

You might first ask, “Which Seven Wonders?” There are many lists: the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the Natural World, the Underwater World, and so on. 

No matter what answers you listed, even after narrowing down which Seven Wonders, someone would disagree with you. 

I have a much more important question to pose to you. Your answers are guaranteed to be 100 percent correct, and those answers just might change your life. 

What are the Seven WANDERS of YOUR World???

Spend some time dreaming, and then get out a piece of paper and write seven bike trips you’d like to take. Your list can include short weekenders, summer-long country-crossing journeys, or epic multiyear bucket-list extravaganzas. They can be as general as a country you want to visit or as specific as a GPS route. They can be practical. They can be seemingly impossible. It’s your list — the only mistake you can make is not writing it down.

I’ve talked with countless people who dream of bike travel. When I ask them where they want to pedal, more often than not I get the response, “Anywhere.” Quite frankly, that is a nonanswer that will likely lead you nowhere. 

A list is a way to narrow down the infinite possibilities — distilling dreams into actual adventures. 

So take five minutes to list your Seven Wanders. Don’t use a pen or permanent marker — use a pencil. Why? Well, it’s your list and you can change your mind any time you want. 

This is important: post your list somewhere prominent, like the refrigerator, your bathroom mirror, or next to your favorite beverage-making device. The key is having this physical list in a place where you encounter it on a daily basis. 

If you buy a yellow bike, you will begin to notice yellow bikes. If you write down your Seven Wanders, your brain will subconsciously go to work. Articles about the destinations and routes you’ve listed will magically appear. Photos on the internet will jump out at you. You’ll meet someone at the store who has just returned from your number one destination. 

Does having a Seven Wanders of Your World list work? I know it does. I wrote a short post on Adventure Cycling’s blog about this subject back in 2011. At the time, I was giving presentations about our three-month bike journey in Spain and Portugal. At each presentation, I handed the audience sheets of paper and asked them to list their Seven Wanders. Six years later, I still get comments from folks. “It’s never left the refrigerator.” “I’ve erased and added different destinations so many times, I’ve worn it out.” 

Bike your seven wanders of the world
Dongyun Lee

Remember that this is a wish list, not a commitment. If you treat it like a commitment, you’ll hesitate to write down trips that appear too difficult, expensive, or crazy. I’ve told folks that I dream of seven trips for every one I take. Well, here’s my Seven Wanders list from 2011: Madagascar, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Armenia, Burma (Myanmar), Newfoundland, and Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. 

How many of those journeys have I taken? Only one: Myanmar in 2012. But writing out my Seven Wanders led me to one amazing trip. 

Is there something magical about seven? Not really. It’s catchy. It’s lucky. It’s more manageable than 84 Wanders of Your World, and it’s a lot less depressing than 100 Destinations to Cycle Before You Die. 

Here is a list that changed my life. Back in 1989, I wrote down the countries I wanted to bike tour: England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. I had already cycled across the U.S. and Canada.

All fine touring destinations, but it wasn’t until I looked at them printed on a piece of paper that it dawned on me — I was afraid to travel in a country where I didn’t speak the language. It was a fear buried deep in my subconscious, unearthed by the simple exercise of physically writing a list. 

So I changed plans and made Mexico my next touring destination. Within 48 hours of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on a Raleigh Chill I’d purchased on sale for $300, my travel world changed. Not only were my fears about the language issues unfounded, but by the time I cycled from San Diego to southern Mexico, I’d made the decision to continue to Guatemala. On my flight back to Seattle, I was already planning a bike trip through all the countries of Central America (which I completed the following year).

To this day, New Zealand is the only country on that initial list I’ve cycle toured. But the revelations that came from writing that list have led me to cycle in 32 countries where English is not the mother tongue.

As my life changes, so does the list. In fact, it’s time for a revision. We currently have a dog; shorter trips are in order. And we’ve focused so much on bike travel outside the U.S. that perhaps it’s time to pedal closer to home. I know one thing (or is that seven?): a list will help move dreams to realities. 

Need some inspiration to fill out your list? How about the Interactive Network Map on Adventure Cycling’s website. Gazing at over 46,000 miles of routes in the U.S. and Canada should amp up your bike touring wanderlust. Or peruse the forums where route discussions abound.  

I’ll tell you what — I’ll share my current wanders list if you’ll share yours. Here’s a template you can print and fill out and then attach to your refrigerator with your favorite bike-related magnet. You can post your list to the page in the comments. But remember to fill your Seven Wanders list in pencil … you might change your mind when you read what others have listed.  

So what are the Seven Wanders of Your World? It is a valuable question that won’t cost you a penny to answer.  

This story originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine. 

Related Reading