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Photo by photo contest 2014
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.
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.