Two kids came riding up to me in the middle of Saskatchewan, waving and smiling.
“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.
These kids were obviously joking.
But, fortunately, before I laughed or opened my mouth, I looked into their eyes and saw nothing but earnestness.
There was a ever-so-slight grade coming into town. Two percent. Max. But in their world, this was the steepest hill you could pedal.
I’ve met plenty of folks on my travels who have never traveled fifty miles beyond their home town. And for at least hundred miles in each direction … this WAS the hill.
I smiled at the boys and said, “You bet I did. Never thought I’d make it.”
We pedaled into town together and I bought them an ice cream to celebrate our accomplishment. I bought one for me too. Couldn’t let them eat alone.
Over the course of my lifetime, my own definition of “hill” or “big climb” has changed. But whether it’s a two percent grade, or twenty-two percent … getting to the top has always been a reason to celebrate.
Happy Climbing (and even happier summiting) in 2011.
Holiday shoppers pop out the umbrellas in Sevilla, Spain
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.
As we wandered through the streets of Sevilla, I recorded the street performers we encountered. Quite an eclectic bunch. In the United States, once Thanksgiving has rolled by, the songs you will hear performed on the streets is pretty much limited to the canon of 20-30 holiday tunes. I still love them. But some variety would be welcome.
Well. That’s what we got. Sure, we heard some traditional tunes. But street musicians in Sevilla do not all march to the holiday tune drum … unless you consider “Knights in White Satin” a holiday classic.
Happy Holidays from Spain.
May your days be merry and bright. And may all your bicycle gear be light.
Our pedal into the city of Évora, Portugal was made easy by following a bike trail (ecopista) that runs north of the city about 25kms to the town of Arraiolos. The trail was flat, mostly through farm land. Away from traffic. The sun was out. Hoopoes (a delightful bird with a comical crest) flitted from tree to tree. The smell of fall was in the air.
Yet I was just a tad depressed. This trail served as a rail line in its former life. But like so many other rail lines, it had been abandoned.
Rails-to-Trails conversions has provided cyclists and walkers and runners with some of the best trails you’ll find on the planet. But each one also marks the death of a rail line. I want to celebrate each trail, but I’m also saddened with the loss … because I love trains. Do we have to give up one to get the other?
The only way to have both is to find other huge projects that use public land and are graded for easy use.
I would like to propose a new non-profit group … the Interstate-to-Trails Conservancy.
OK. I might be a couple of decades early, but I’d love to live long enough to see walking, cycling and public transportation become such the social norm in the United States, that our government wonders what to do with these outdated, enormous rivers of asphalt and concrete. Imagine the grand trails and greenbelts stretching for hundreds of miles. There would even be room to run rail lines. And instead of old rail cars as cute trail-side snack bars and restaurants … maybe we’ll see old converted semi’s and RV’s instead.
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.
In just a matter of a few years, Seville has gone from almost no one using a bike for transportation, to over 60,000 people biking per day.
It wasn’t accomplished simply by an ad campaign. The city built and/or marked a network of 120 kms worth of traffic-separated bike paths around the city. These are not your average recreational paths that end abruptly, leaving the cyclist confused and lost. These paths are meant as a transportation system — all connected, and, as we found, all easy to follow.
In addition, the city has provided a bicycle sharing system with 300 stations and over 3000 bikes (Their bike program is called Sevici).
Kat and I were blown away with how efficient and easy the whole system operates. We barely had to refer to our bike map.
Thirty years ago, cities were best avoided on a bike tour. Now, thanks to bicycle advocates and campaigns around the world, more and more cities are becoming bicycle destinations themselves.
This coming year’s Velocity Conference will be hosted in Seville, where advocates will gather to learn and share how to make the world a better place to pedal.
Spain was right there. We could have pedaled along the busy highway on the Algarve coast and crossed the bridge. But it didn’t feel right. It was so rare for us on our 2 ½ month journey in Portugal to be in heavy traffic. Portugal in our minds was small barely two-lane roads, winding through the countryside. This would have been a sour last note in a otherwise delightful cycling sonata.
So we pointed our bikes north and soon found ourselves pedaling along one of those quintessential back roads. The road wound up and down through farm country.
We camped that evening on top of a hill next to a large semi-trailer that had been converted for camping. The couple (she was from England, he from France) invited us in for some wine and snacks, followed by a scrumptious plate of vegetarian shepherd’s pie. Full of food and conversation, we bid them and their three dogs goodnight and crawled into our tent as a cold wind blew and rain threatened.
In the morning the road turned east and then continued north along the Rio Guadiana. The thin cloud cover provided muted light, revealing the riverside and orchards filled with oranges, pomegranates, and persimmons appear as a pastel painting. The road lazily wound it’s way and then climbed up before descended on the quaint little fishing village of Alcoutim.
This was how and where our trip should end. We booked a room near the center square and drank coffee while gazing across the river at Sanlucar de Guadiana, another quaint, village on the Spanish side of the river.
The two towns, with their white-washed buildings and cobbled streets, were mirror images of one another. But on the hour, the church in Alcotim chimed six, while the church bells in Sanlucar chimed seven times. The two towns were two hundred meters and one hour apart.
In the morning we wandered down to the dock and waited for twenty minutes or so, until a man steered a boat over from the Spanish side and we boarded with our bikes. We paid him 4 Euro and two minutes later we were in Spain.
Sanlucar was barely waking up. Most shop doors were closed, with only a few folks out for a morning walk and a man selling sweets out of the back of his van.
We turned around and took our final look at Portugal—a country that had charmed and embraced us. The church bell in Alcutim rang nine times and a minute later the church bell in Sanlucar echoed with nine … plus one.