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Photo by photo contest 2014
Wild camping is usually as easy as pulling off the road and finding a flat, secluded spot.
Not so in Laos. In a country with the distinction of having the worst unexploded ordinance problem in the world, you don't casually wander off the road and pitch a tent.
I spotted a beautiful tree and what looked to be a flat patch of earth surrounding it. I hiked up the steep grade, and discovered that the view was stunning. I hiked back down and announced to Kat that the site was indeed camp worthy.
Now we just had to get our bikes and gear up there. It took six trips and almost an hour to haul our bikes and panniers up to our Andes perch.
I didn't realize until later that I had roommates — hundreds of mosquitoes, lurking behind tattered curtains and dusty bed covers. Normally, I'd shut the doors and windows and then go on a mosquito killing spree. But the room was insanely hot and there was no glass in the window openings ... only bars.
My next several posts will be about bicycle camping ... the good, the bad and the ugly.
I'll begin with one of the best. A campsite I'd go back to tonight, if it wasn't 6,300 miles away (as the crow flies).
If you ever have the pleasure of pedaling up to the top of the highest pass in Venezuela (13,146 ft), I hope that you take your time and relish the over sixty-five kilometer downhill (descending 8,000 vertical feet) to the city of Mérida.
Kat and I entertained every opportunity to pause on the way down to draw out the effortless downward journey. That included a stop in the town of Mucuchies. We were told it translates to "a cold place."
Rain is a four letter word to most cyclists. Rain means misery, road grit, filthy chains, brake pads scraping like sandpaper against rims, soggy roadside flat fixing.
Romance is in the air. Three times this spring, at public speaking engagements, I've had an audience member ask, "What is your most romantic travel memory?"
It's hard to come up with just the right answer to many travel questions, but I never hesitate with this one. It was in Hungary.
It was a hot, way too hot, summer afternoon in Macedonia. We were pedaling down a dirt track when a couple of women waved us over. Their simple stone dwelling was country modest. A smokey fire burned in the wood stove, iron skillets hung from hooks, and baskets of vegetables were stacked up in the corners. Their older brother worked the bellows to keep the coals hot.
Want to send an unforgettable birthday gift that will also be a lasting travel memory? Give an audio birthday card. It's cheap and fun.
Choose someone you love (motivation) and make sure you travel with some sort of audio recording device.
The route we were following in Idaho by compass was the Hudspeth cutoff. This route was supposed to save over a hundred miles over the California trail. But that was in 1849!
That's me. On my bike. On Earth.
The artist is Zak and he attends a primary school in Washington state where I presented an assembly entitled "The World's Greatest SUV". It introduces kids to the magic and wonders of bicycle travel.
What a sight? A thin ribbon of a road, snaking its way down to a green valley below. No traffic, unless you consider goats and sheep traffic. Blue skies. The warm sun on my face. This was a downhill well earned.
I had leaned my bike against a tree to fix a flat in a little town in Colombia. A small boy wandered up and watched my progress. I glanced up and was taken aback. He wasn't laughing or poking at my bike, or doing any of the typical things kids do. He was just looking at me. Through me. His peaceful facial expression didn't change when I smiled at him. People talk of old souls. This kid had one.
When I show this photo, it is rare that someone guesses the country of origin correctly.
But if you cycle all the way to the tip of the North Island of New Zealand, you'll discover the Te Paki sand dunes.
"Daddy, you ain't gonna believe this. There's a man in bicycle britches at the door, lookin' for a place to camp." That had to be my favorite snippet I heard during our bicycle trip across the Deep South.
Stereotypes breed best when folks have had no contact with the real place or people the stereotypes reference. Real life isn't as black and white as the media would like us to believe.
But even if you have a beautiful porch, you're not likely to sit out on it when it is 42 degrees Fahrenheit. When the sun came out, so did the locals. I describe one of our encounters to Bob.
Whether your bike travel route is mountainous, hilly, or as flat as a pancake ... you will most certainly ride the roller coaster; the emotional roller coaster.
My first trip had ignited a passion for bicycle travel. My country defined by the incredible people that we encountered along the way. Invitations into homes, meals, hugs and kisses goodbye with folks who had been strangers only twelve hours prior ... well, if you've bicycle toured, you know all about it.
We began our Deep South bicycle trip by transporting ourselves and our tandem in a Ford Taurus without a rack. Quite the impossible task unless you have a Rodriguez 8-Ball tandem with S&S couplings.
As much as I love bicycles and cycling, it is the connections with people on my travels that I treasure most.
In 2001 Kat and I cycled through the Deep South. Our 2,000 mile journey aired as commentaries on public radio station KUOW in Seattle. The commentaries were written in the form of letters to my friend Bob Nadir.
I once asked a local in Tennessee what the road was like up ahead. His answer? "That's the wiggliest damn road you ever saw." Perfect. If you like curves ... and hills ... do I have a route for you.
This is a classic bike travel moment. You come upon a diner with an old fashion register and swivel stools that offers burgers and handmade milk shakes, berry pie, cobbler, chicken fried steak ... the works. And due to the fact that you have been cranking hard on the pedals for days ... you've earned it.
Most folks would approach an urban trip by booking a hotel and using it as a base for day trips. We, my partner Kat and I, decided to approach it like all our other bike trips. Fully loaded touring bikes--tent, stove, sleeping bag, etc. No hotel reservations. No guided tour. Just let the travel Fates guide us.
We were soon to discover that the man wasn't taking about road conditions or steep grades. He was talking about the flies. Those aren't dust speaks in the photo. Muhi they call them. And in the oak forests of Bulgaria these little biting black flies hatch in numbers of biblical proportion.
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