The Faces of Bicycle Travel #1

October 12, 2012

I have thousands and thousands of images from my bicycle travels throughout the world -- boxes and binders filled with color slides and folders of digital images of street scenes, flowers, sunsets, roads, and landscapes. Each photo represents a moment in time and travel that I deemed worthy of capturing.

Yet, if you randomly selected an image and asked for my reaction, it just might be, “I took that?”

What may have been the last switchback on an epic climb has ten years later become simply a semi-paved road with some straggly-looking bushes and a washed-out sky. What was a unique, magical sunset is now generic -- only the date on the image would allow me to identify in what part of the world it was captured.

Sad but true, that is, unless the image is a portrait I’ve taken.

Show me a photo that includes a face and I can tell you not only where it was taken but how I was feeling at the time. I’ll recall the weather and the details of the day. Emotions and memories come flying out as if they’re escaping from a dark prison.

People. The true treasures of bicycle travel. 


United States, 1981

I am so full I can barely stand up to take this photo. It is a small café in downtown Minneapolis. The night before, my buddy Thomas and I were desperately trying to find an inexpensive place to stay in the city.

We met Steve in a park, and he said we could crash at his apartment. In the morning, he gave us directions to the café where he worked as a line cook. We felt silly among the old-timers as we sat in our bicycle shorts. The coffee was weak and the cigarette smoke was strong. We ate ourselves silly and went to pay the bill. Steve had picked up the tab.

Canada, 1988

It is early morning on a small farm in the middle of Saskatchewan. There is the smell of cow manure and fresh hay. The couple in the photo invited me to tent outside their farmhouse and later invited me into their home to take a shower. In the morning, they woke me up for breakfast. We sat at their tiny kitchen table and I had fresh eggs and toast with homemade plum jam.

At one point over breakfast, the woman leaned over and said, “Do you mind if I tell you something?”

“Of course not,” I replied.

“You are the first stranger we’ve invited into our home,” she said.

“I’m honored. Do you mind if I ask, why me?”

She pondered a while and then smiled. “You were on a bicycle. You had to be a good person.”

Photos: By Willie Weir


SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His latest book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist will inspire you to hit the road and just might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at


Thomas October 19, 2012, 3:06 AM

I saw that picture of Steve and was immediately transported to the strip mall church, his cluttered apartment and the breakfast diner--he was a sweet soul.

You've once again so eloquently captured a precious nugget of truth. Well done, my friend.

Marti October 12, 2012, 9:03 PM

Every time someone asks about the highlights of our tours, I always talk about the people. You are so right; I can look at any portrait and tell you the 'story' behind it. But in which desert was that cactus? I truly doubt I can tell you. Thanks for writing what I have always known to be true.

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