Kat and I first encountered Bangkok traffic from the perspective of the backseat of a taxi. The chaos of any big city can be daunting. Though neither of us spoke the words, I know we were both thinking, “Not going to bike here.” But over years of travel, both of us have learned that first impressions are often wrong. …
She stares out from underneath the gap in the backyard fence. It’s a scary world out there. We recently adopted a rescue puppy—a Formosan Mountain Dog/Lab mix from Taiwan. We named her Tiva. Her name has a bittersweet history.
My wife Kat was the excited instigator. I was the skeptic. I wasn’t sure how a dog was going to fit into our travel lifestyle.
Kat dreamed of long walks with her trusty dog on city streets and mountain paths. I hoped for a dog who saw a bike trailer as her second home.
Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it.
Tiva is horrified of traffic. The revving of an engine sends her into a panic. Garbage trucks are enormous monsters in her eyes (or ears). She can hear their rumblings a mile away, and she retreats to the safety of her crate.
She is a reluctant traveler. Our dreams of cross city walks and long bike rides with her in the bike trailer are indefinitely postponed. We have to take a step-by-step approach.
Our goal this month is a fear-free walk around the block. Tiva’s bike trailer sits in the living room and we are slowly introducing her to it as a safe place. Hopefully, not too long from now, I will be that crazy neighbor who walks the streets, towing his dog in a bike trailer. Then I hope to actually attach the trailer to a bike. Then, and this I understand might be years away, we’ll take Tiva on a bicycle camping trip.
I look into the frightened eyes of this lovely, friendly little animal that I adore, and am reminded that conquering fear is almost always an incremental process.
I’ve talked with cyclists who dream of a long distance bicycle journey, but have a companion or spouse who is afraid of the venture. Maybe you find yourself in the same situation.
A cross country trip can be daunting, even for an experienced cyclist. So why not start with a bike overnight? Take a grand adventure on a much smaller scale. An overnight trip could lead to a weekend, and then a week-long tour, which could lead to the possibility of a cross country trip. Step-by-positive-step.
Who knows? Maybe your reluctant traveler will transform to one who longs for the open road. I’ll keep you posted on ours.
Every bicycle journey has a theme song. At least all of mine do. A tune that fits the mood of the journey … or describes the place you are pedaling through … or sometimes it’s just the tune that is incessantly playing on every radio.
“White Bird” by It’s a Beautiful Day became the theme song of my first bike trip. Why? Because our Adventure Cycling maps (then Bikecentennial) listed a big climb ahead. White Bird Pass. My buddy Thomas sang a snippet of White Bird six million times before we climbed that pass. It still rings in my head.
Johnny Clegg’s Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World was the soundtrack of my five month trip in South Africa. Anyone who listens to Johnny Clegg’s music will yearn to travel in that country.
Macarena by Los del Rio haunted us throughout our bike trip in the Balkans simply because it was playing on every radio in Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia at the time or our trip. The one time we had access to a television in Bulgaria, we turned on CNN, and there was Al Gore … dancing to Macarena at the Democratic Convention.
Kat and I recently pedaled the Golden Circle, a route from Haines, Alaska, to White Horse, Yukon, to Skagway, Alaska. For the first time our trip theme song was provided by live musicians. Bonfire At Home was playing at the Skagway Brewery the night we pedaled into town. Loved their music.
The next morning we encountered the group playing outside the Alaskan Sojourn Hostel. I recorded them playing their tune, Ally’s Face.
That tune has already spun through my mind a hundred times. There is a lyric in the chorus, “You went out of your way.” I don’t know exactly what Andrew and Tyler meant by that line when they wrote the song, but it speaks to my traveler’s soul. For that is what travel is all about. Going out of your way to see parts of the world that others speed by.
Thanks Bonfire At Home for providing a great tune to accompany the amazing images and memories of our brief journey in the wild north!
Have you ever in your bike touring experience asked yourself this question: How am I going to get my mail?
If you began bike touring within the last ten years, your answer will revolve around internet access and wi-fi availability.
But if you have been doing this for a long time, you’ll remember trying to plan out your mail stops. Post offices along your route, where you asked (sometimes pleaded with) friends to send you physical missives. You informed them to send those letters to a post office with your name and a note, “Please hold for traveling cyclist.”
Then you hoped and prayed that the employees at that small town post office would do just that. Hold your mail. So that at some unforeseen date you could physically hold your mail. Caress it even. For it was treasure. Handwritten news from home. Maybe a photo or two. Or a newspaper clipping about an event where you were missed.
I miss those days. But I’m being nostalgic. And nostalgia has selective memory.
It forgets the time you arrived at a post office on a Friday afternoon and stared at the “closed” sign and realized you’d have to wait until Monday morning. And there certainly wasn’t a guarantee that you’d have mail waiting for you.
Nostalgia forgets physical mail has heft, and because it is precious, impossible to throw away. Six pounds and growing in your back pannier.
It forgets how often you wanted to change your route, only to realize you’d miss a mail stop, so you trudged on as planned … only to have nothing waiting for you behind the counter.
But nostalgia always remembers the chocolate chip cookies. Wrapped with care and boxed and mailed. True love.
Communicating while on the road has never been easier. But you still can’t send cookies over the internet. At least not the kind you’d want to eat.
If you don’t have the time to spare for a extended bike trip, you can get loads of inspiration on Bike Overnights.org.
But sometimes you can’t even afford an overnight. That’s the time to head out on a bike breakfast.
Kat and I did this just last week. A glorious weekend morning with sunny blue skies couldn’t be wasted. We got out the panniers, loaded them with breakfast treats, coffee in a thermos and camp chairs. We pedaled down to the shores of Lake Washington and ate breakfast on one of the docks. We soaked up the views of the lake and Mt. Rainier, and manufactured some much needed vitamin D.
After draining the thermos of coffee, we packed up and pedaled off to the Washington Park Arboretum, where the winter garden was in full bloom. The sights and smells of a grove of witch hazels will remind anyone that winter definitely has its upside.
So even if you only have a couple of hours to spare. It’s still enough time to pack up and head out. I’m not sure if bike breakfasts warrant their own website, but they sure can be a great way to start any day!
“Give the world outside a point of entry. It’ll give back to you.”
That lyric stuck in my soul the first time I heard it in Larry Murante’s title song of his album Point of Entry.
Music is an incredible force, and each listener interprets what they hear in their own way. Words can be heard and quickly forgotten, but put them to music, and they will most likely be with you forever.
I know for a fact that Larry didn’t set out to write a bicycle travel tune. But that is exactly what it is for me. My “point of entry” is my bicycle. It allows me to be more engaged, more vulnerable, and more in touch with the world around me.
With that in mind, listen to the tune with added images, and you may agree that this is one of the most beautiful bicycle travel songs ever written.
Note: Larry will be performing this song live at my presentation, Come to Your Senses: A Celebration of Bicycle Travel at Seattle’s REI Flagship on Tuesday, Feb 7th at 7pm. Advance tickets at: Brown Paper Tickets
It’s the time of year when holiday tunes are playing everywhere. But sometimes when you are traveling far away from home in another culture, hearing a Christmas carol or familiar song can be a wonderful reminder of home … or not.
We were cycling in Northern Thailand during Christmas. We pedaled into a small town northwest of Chiang Mai. I heard a familiar tune. Jingle Bells. It wasn’t Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole singing. It was one of those little Christmas trees with blinking lights and a chip that plays a loop of holiday favorites.
As we got closer, we realized that the storefront window was filled with these things … all competing with each other.
Before you listen to the clip below, I’m going to give you fair warning that this is an earworm for me. There is something about the obnoxious sound quality and the hideous way that Jingle Bells transitions to Santa Claus is Coming to Town that haunts me to this day. I can’t hear Jingle Bells without this version playing in the background of my mind.
If you do listen, you’ll hear a couple of motor scooters go by and you’ll also hear Silent Night from another cheap plastic tree competing with Jingle Bells.
Not all the sounds of travel are pleasant ones. Unfortunately, this one has stuck with me.
If you have listened to the audio file and want something more pleasing to bring you back into the holiday spirit, you can check out my post from last year. It is a medley of tunes I recorded in Seville, Spain.
The cold November rains have come and my mind drifts off to warmer places on the planet. While we are slamming into winter here in the U.S., New Zealand is sliding into summer.
If you have the pleasure of taking a bike trip in New Zealand, don’t miss the cathedral. While I know there are beautiful churches in Christchurch and Auckland, I’m referring to one made by Mother Nature.
Cathedral Cove is on the Coromandel Peninsula, east of Auckland. As I recall, you’ll have to park your bike and hike out to this cove with its grand arch. It is a protected marine reserve popular with divers and snorkelers.
After a visit, you can get on your bike and pedal out to Hot Water Beach, where thermal activity under the sand provides a great opportunity to dig your own hot tub. Borrow a shovel (unless you are already carrying one on your bike. Really? You are?) and dig a hole in the sand when the tide is low. The water will be too hot to sit in, so you’ll mix it with seawater.
The trick is you’ll have to also build your own little sand wall to keep too much of the cold ocean water from spilling into your hot sand hot tub. It’s hard work. But you won’t mind because you’ll remember that back at home it’s snowing or raining or clear and thirty below.
I was there nineteen years ago. Normally I wouldn’t lend out specific travel advice that is nearly two decades old. But unlike restaurants or lodging options, which can drastically change from year to year, Mother Nature is pretty consistently awesome!
When you read the word “crowded” what images come to mind? How about “crowded room” or “crowded bar” or “crowded bus”?
A couple of definitions I ran across were, “close to capacity” and “uncomfortably close together.”
But what is “capacity” and what is “uncomfortable”?
Let’s take the situation of putting your bike on the bus. Where I live in Seattle, the bike racks on the buses hold three bikes. A bus driver is not allowed to let you bring your bike on board. So the capacity is three. End of story.
In many countries around the world, the capacity of public transportation is whatever will fit inside, on top of, strapped onto, hanging off of the vehicle. The bus is at capacity only when the driver screams and waves his arms “Enough!” or when the bus literally topples over. You think I’m kidding? It happens.
If you say “crowded train” to someone who lives in India or Japan, their mental image will be far different than that of someone who lives in the United States or Canada.
One of the many things I love about travel is that it constantly tweaks our own language. Each one of my bicycle journeys has redefined certain words: beautiful, ugly, loud, serene, rich, poor, fair, unfair, tragedy, happiness.
I remember getting onto a bus in Guatemala. The driver wouldn’t leave until all the seats were filled. Then he kept picking up people along the route. His helper, who collected the fares, walked on top of the backs of the seats to get around (being small was a requirement for this position). Before each stop I thought, “This bus is full.” And then two or three more people would get on. I began to wonder if there was actually enough oxygen for us all to breathe.
When is a bus crowded? When is a highway busy? When is a road steep? When is a pannier full?
The answers to those questions (and so many others) are defined and influenced by our wanderings on this incredible planet.