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Photo by Colt Fetters
The photos in catalogs of bike rides and tours and special package trips are filled with blue skies and sun-drenched vistas.
But let's pause for a little reality check. Weather happens. Blue skies turn gray. Weather forecasts are often painfully wrong. Everyone wants a trip with perfect weather, but everyone's best stories and memories are more often than not, centered around less than perfect conditions.
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.
The phrase might sound trite and overused, but standing at the edge of Crater Lake in Oregon will "take your breath away."
Then it was time for them to sing for us. They lined up and struggled through a couple of short songs. Then one of the teachers singled out one of the girls and called her to the front of the room.
She opened her mouth and a voice mature beyond her age filled the room. I still get goose bumps listening to it.
There is nothing, nothing better than an ice cream sandwich on a hot, sweaty summer day. Well, maybe a triple-scoop ice cream cone ... or two ... followed by a milk shake ... or two.
But take the bicycle trip out of the equation of the above photo (and scenario), and you just have three guys getting fat in a campground. Not a pretty picture.
You don't need to be an accomplished speaker, or be on an epic journey, to be an inspiration at a school. And you don't need to wait to be asked by a stranger on a scooter. Be the initiator.
If you are traveling by bike in a foreign land (or even your own country), stop at a local school and ask if they'd like you to talk about your travels. You'll be surprised how often your offer will be graciously accepted.
I will nominate the saddle above as the most uncomfortable bike seat I've ever encountered. The bike was parked among several hundred other single speed bikes in downtown Havana.
Instead of adult runners fleeing from thousands of pounds of angry bovines — you get scores of giggling kids running from realistic bull replicas rolling along on a bicycle tire.
Where do you want to travel? It is a simple question that I find many people don't ask themselves. What are your travel dreams? Pedaling across the U.S.? Your own state? Alaska to Tierra del Fuego? A grand world tour?
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.
Perhaps it is the road sign in a foreign language — the seemingly unending lane lined with towering bamboo. Where is the road going? And what is around the next bend?
Old roads are more often narrow and follow the contour of the land. They meander. Sure, they aren't as smooth as a brand new road, but I'll take an old, bumpy scenic road any day.
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.
"Hey Mister. Did you come all the way up the hill?"
I looked to behind me to the west and then ahead to the east. It was flat as the eye could see. I hadn't encountered a hill for at least a week.
Our latest bike journey ended in the beautiful city of Sevilla (Seville), Spain.
I'm a sucker for Christmas/holiday music and also a huge fan of street performers. These musicians add life to any city. And I love being in the crush of holiday crowds ... especially when I'm observing, rather than shopping.
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.
We only planned to bicycle to Seville to catch the train to Madrid after our 2 1/2 month pedal around Portugal. Little did we know that we were headed into one of the fastest growing "bicycle cities" on the planet.
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.
No campground or hotel we were assured. The sun was low in the sky. No time to pedal to the next town.
The tapestry of sounds will live in our memories, as vivid as the blue sky above the Zêzere Valley.
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.
Due to recent heavy rains, Kat and I spent a couple of days camped out under a grove of Stone Pine trees a day's pedal away from Lisbon.
Each night, right at sunset, we heard birds calling high up in the pines. I assume they were owls. But I don't know. I did record one call though.