The essence of bike touring

It’s been ten years and more or less 100.000 km. So maybe it’s time to tell the stories of my travels. Before I got into cycling, I had no stories, now I have too many. 

I’m sure it’s true that a lot of people have ridden further, seen more places and have been on the bike for way longer. But I haven’t met many people that have the same approach to bike touring that I do, that are driven by the same motives. Hopefully this approach might help me tell different stories and shed some light on other aspects of riding bikes. 

How many people ride overnight to see what it’s like? Not many I guess. What would be the point anyway? Wouldn’t it defeat the purpose of bike touring which, I think for many, is simply to get there? Isn’t the moment when you finally get off the bike after a long day, the one that holds the key? Maybe. 

Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

It is indeed the moment when we collect the rewards. It is that time when a hot shower feels heavenly, any food tastes delicious and the comfort of a bed is enough to put a big smile on our face. It is a very basic principle that pretty much everyone is familiar with: the harder you work for it, the more you think you deserve it, the better it feels. 

A bit more than a year ago, somewhere in Colombia, I rode my bike for a day of mostly paved downhills. A bit before dusk I got to a small town where I had planned to stay. I sat down to eat an early dinner and look at my lodging options. I found a few good places but couldn’t convince myself to book one. Something felt wrong. Stopping now seemed weird for some reason. It took me some time to figure it out, but the reason was: it all had been too easy. I missed the hardship of my usual rides; the bad roads, the endless climbs, the descent in freezing temperatures. I felt like it was not time to stop as the rest I was about to get was not one I had earned. 

Punta Olimpica, Peru (Gavin Kaps©)

So, I got back on my bike as the night had settled, and rode another 25 km. Half of it on tarmac and the other half on a hellish gravel road, through the thick, hot and humid air typical of these equatorial latitudes. It took much longer than I anticipated and I hated it. But, in a way, this was exactly what I had been looking for without even knowing it. When I got to the next town, stopping seemed right. I looked for a hotel, found a decent one and then went out for a second dinner.

It seems ironic to say that the essence of bike touring might actually reside in being stationary. It might not be 100% accurate, as the passion for touring is a fairly complex one. Yet I feel there’s some truth to it. What are some of my fondest memories of ten years of cycling the world? I can cite two. Two journeys that are deeply engraved in my memory and will be as long as I am alive. Two rides that are the story of a hardship and how the way they ended immediately justified them. And these two ride will be the subjectw of my next posts. So stay tuned.

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