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Photo by Colt Fetters
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.
It's 1991 and I'm on my first bike trip in a non-English speaking country. I don't speak the language. I've been warned not to drink the water--not to eat at roadside restaurants. I'm traveling alone. I'm nervous. I'm lonely. I'm hungry.
Photographing people can be a challenge on a bike trip. Sure, you can get all kinds of shots of groups of people smiling directly into the camera lens. But sometimes it feels like that's all you can get.
Photos can capture the the face of a country, but I find more often than not, it is the music that captures its soul.
You are leaving on long trip to Africa or South America or Asia or an extended world tour ... what do you bring for gifts?
The sad truth is that while many countries are making progress on bringing back the bicycle as viable transportation, in many developing countries ... the trend is just the opposite. People are trading in their bicycle for a scooter and (when they can afford one) a car.
I love being home for the holidays ... but I also have fond memories of Christmas on the road. There is something magical about celebrating a familiar holiday in a foreign land.
I had to see the opening weekend of Invictus, Clint Eastwood's latest film about South Africa's epic run for the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Not because I'm a diehard Clint Eastwood fan, or a fan of the sport of rugby. I had to go because I was there.
As I write this sentence, the temperature in Seattle is 25°F. Pedaling around the city would be a blast ... except for the black ice. When the temps rise above freezing, that infamous Northwest drizzle will return.
Yes, there are those hardy individuals that embrace the cold and wet and freezing. For the rest, winter is a time to dream of warmer climates and climbs. Time to plan that next great bike trip that includes less ice and more ice cream.
The beauty of cycling in India was seeing the country that most tourists and travelers were missing. I met a group of backpackers in Jaipur. They had bussed from Agra and their next stop was an overnight bus to the desert city of Jaisalmer. So much distance covered in the dark.
I knew this was going to be painful. The violin is one of the sweetest instruments on the planet ... when it is played well. In the wrong hands, it sounds more like a dying animal.
I've never been a racer, choosing instead to pedal up scenic mountain passes at whatever speed strikes my fancy. But that doesn't mean I can't admire the beauty, the power and the passion of those who fly passed me sans panniers.