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Willie Weir : May 26th, 2010

Inspiring the Next Generation of Adventure Cyclists

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That’s me. On my bike. On Earth.

The artist is Zak and he attends a primary school in Washington state where I presented an assembly entitled “The World’s Greatest SUV”. It introduces kids to the magic and wonders of bicycle travel.

If you haven’t ever talked to young students about your bicycle travels … you should.

You may think your trip across your state or across America pales in comparison to the hundreds of blogs and posts of epic world travelers. But to the students you take the time to visit … you’ll be Columbus, Magellan, Neil Armstrong, and Amelia Earhart all wrapped into one. You’ll rock their world.

The following is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Adventure Cyclist magazine in 2000 (pdf):

The question remains, how do today’s students get introduced to the bicycle as a vehicle of travel and discovery? Most are driven to school in SUVs until they reach the age where they can buy their own car. The media is saturated with advertisements about adventure, nearly all of which are connected to sales of automobiles, jet skis, and snowmobiles.

For the generation growing up today, the bicycle is something you put on top of your Ford Explorer until you reach a recreational trail. It is a toy, not a viable means of transportation. Just this past year I revisited my primary school while classes were in session. I walked onto the very same courtyard once saturated with bikes. It contained one lonely bike rack occupied by a total of three bikes.

But kids and students can only get excited about what they’ve been exposed to. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life came, not on a mountain pass in a far away country, but with my relationship with a third grade class in San Francisco.

Before I left for India, I promised Jennifer, a teacher friend of mine, I’d visit her school. I have to admit I wasn’t too excited about the experience. I figured that compared to video games, Power Rangers, and extreme sports, a guy on a bicycle was going to go over about as well as cold oatmeal.

I rode into her classroom with my bicycle fully loaded. To my surprise her students were totally enthralled with my bike, the same type of vehicle most of them already owned. After I talked about my planned journey, dozens of hands shot up when I asked if they had any questions.

Throughout my five-month journey I sent letters to the students. When they received them, they had to locate from where they’d been sent on a giant map of India in their classroom captioned, “Where’s Willie?”

Three months into my journey, I pulled into the city of Indore in central southern India. I had arranged to have mail sent there. There were a couple of letters from family and friends, and one large packet. Enclosed was a bundle of letters … every kid in Jennifer’s class had written to me.

Upon my return to the States I visited Jennifer’s class again. I had to break through a large “Welcome Back” banner held across the doorway. I spent the day with thirty future travelers, answering questions about tigers, mountain passes, and strange foods.

Then it was their turn. They all stood up and sang a song they had written for me and presented me with a gift, a hand-painted t-shirt of a bicycle wheel with the caption “The World for Willie.” The back of the shirt was filled with the pastel colored signatures of the kids. I stood in that classroom, tears rolling down my face, relishing in what has become one of my dearest travel memories.

I hope one day to open up my mailbox and pull out a postcard from a foreign land. I won’t recognize the name, but I’ll smile and laugh and cry. It will begin something like …

“Dear Willie,

Do you remember talking to my class several years ago?”

Will there be a next generation of adventure cyclists? There won’t be, unless those of us with a passion for bicycle travel find ways to share our passion with others.

Your passion … pass it on.

Originally posted on the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.


2 comments to Inspiring the Next Generation of Adventure Cyclists

  • Willie, great post. I recently found your book at Elliot Bay books in Seattle and set out to read some of it while my wife looked through the children’s section (for hours). I was so enthralled with your book after an hour of reading that I actually bought it. That’s saying a lot coming from a tight wad like me. I’ve been involved with a lot of group or organized rides in the past but I think next year my wife and are are going to give touring a shot. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Willie — (I don’t know how to contact you other than here.) Do you remember old Ethel in Missoula who does solo bike trips mainly in France? I found & use as my e-mail signature the quote from you & mentioned:
    “Adventure is rarely determined by the destination you choose, but by the method of travel and the route you take to get there.” Just finished a great 3-week Paris-Amsterdam trip & am again inspired by you & this article to offer presentations to schools. At age 72 I continue to bike ALL my usual shopping, errands, meeting, entertainment trips & constantly try to get other women to do the same. Biking in a country where bikes are an accepted and major form of transportation (Holland, of course) was an enlightening & inspiring experience. You inspire me — and I hope to inspire others. Thanks.

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