The bicycle is where my adventuring heart lies. Its the most versatile, all-purpose accessory to adventure ever invented.
A motorbike may be faster; walking may be slower (there is a time and a place for both fast adventure and slow adventure). Kayaks, and canoes and crampons may get you to wilder places. Living and working in a foreign land may immerse you deeper into a culture. But a journey by bike does a pretty good job at every one of these aspects.
Riding a bike is one of the most joyful aspects of childhood. Every eulogy to cycling trots out that clich . But it remains true: riding a bike is fun. If something is fun, why not do more of it? Certainly, its possible to have too much of a good thing. I have buried myself deep in pain and exhaustion on long days in the saddle. These days are classic Type 2 fun (hideous at the time; glorious retrospectively). But a bicycle gives you a choice.
You can choose to pedal furiously around the planet in just six months. Or, as Heinz Stcke did, you can set out in search of a life more fulfilling than his a boring and monotonous job. Heinz wanted to take charge of his future. 50 years and 370,000 miles later, he is still cycling round the world! Proof, if nothing else, that there is a lot of world to be seen out there!
You’d probably pick a pace somewhere in between the two. But thats the point: a bicycle journey gives you the freedom to do it however the hell you choose.
When I think of my bicycle journeys, large and small, I have a variety of happy memories. I think of the wild places bicycles have taken me to. The sheer variety of them makes me smile, whether its snowy mountain passes, silent deserts shimmering with heat, or bumpy single-track paths leading to isolated Scottish bothies.
Travelling by bicycle can be as simple as tucking a credit card, passport and toothbrush in your pocket and making your way between cafs and hotels. Or bikes can also be a small miracle of self-sufficiency. Ive loaded my bike so heavy with food and gear that I couldnt lift it an inch off the ground. Progress is slow like this, but its liberating and rewarding to be able to cross swathes of desert or mountain without caring whether or not you meet another person or find a shop along the way.
Ive carried food for ten day stretchess, cycling through a Siberian winter until I reached the next settlement, spending hours each night melting enough water for the next days miles. I once carried all I needed to make it right the way across Turkmenistan without stopping because Id faked the visa dates in my passport and I did not want to linger.
In the high mountain deserts between Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, Ive cycled without speaking to a soul for more than a week, battling on by myself through the icy wind and sandy tracks by myself.
But bike journeys are not just about leaving the world behind.
I have also enjoyed riding amongst the hordes of bicycles during rush hour in Beijing, or weaving through the chaotic streets of La Paz. Bike journeys are a superb way of meeting people. When you arrive somewhere on a bicycle you dont get bracketed as an Annoying Tourist or a Rich Foreigner. Youre just a person riding a bike, and an automatically interesting person at that.
Where are you from? Where are you going? On a bike? Youre crazy! Come meet my family! is the standard opening exchange when arriving almost anywhere on Earth on a heavily-loaded bicycle.
I have been welcomed into mosques and churches, yurts and embassies, mud huts and mansions. And in every one of those places people want to talk about your trip.
Tell me about your adventures! Tell of the wonderful things you have seen.
Buying a bike is not expensive (correction: it need not be expensive) and cycling journeys are not exclusive. Anyone can participate in a cycling journey.
If you strapped a tent to the back of any old old bike and just began riding tomorrow, you could reach another continent in a few months time. You certainly dont need to see yourself as a cyclist to consider this as a serious proposition. Isn’t that amazing?
Ive spent five years of my life travelling by bike. But I am not a cyclist. The bike was always just a tool, an adventure-enabler. A bicycle is the greatest Willy Wonka-style Golden Ticket to Adventure that has ever been made. It opens up the world to absolutely anyone.
Proper cyclists are often dismayed about my lack of knowledge or interest in how many sprockets my chainset has, or that I did not (do not , will not) shave my legs. None of this matters to me. Veteran traveller cyclist Anne Mustoe, (a retired headmistress who pedalled round the planet a couple of times,) claimed not to be able to fix a puncture. She would rely on the effective, if a little incongruous, combination of feminine charms and headmisstress-ly authority to persuade a local man to help her whenever the need arose.
A bicycle journey can be an appetite-whetting weekend away, a couple of weeks riding from Lands End to John OGroats, or a transcontinental epic. I find it beguiling to know that anyone who is able to ride a bike and read the instructions for how to pitch a tent has all of the skills necessary to cycle from New York to Los Angeles, from Cairo to Cape Town, or London to Singapore.
As you read these words now, dozens of very ordinary, very humble and laid-back folk are currently cycling thousands of miles through every terrain on the planet, having an adventure that they will never forget. You could, too.
I have never met anyone who regretted their big bicycle journey. But I have often met people who regretted not taking one when they had the opportunity.
Rememberthat decisions about adventure are not irreversible. If you think you want an adventure, but fear it may not actually be for you, then give it a go. Try it. If you hate it, you can always come home! Its not the end of the world. And far better to realise that than not even to begin and be filled with regrets and what-ifs for the rest of your life.
Adventure can be compatible with real life. You dont have to see your plan as a choice between a normal life with friends, ties, salary and, pension’ OR life as a ‘crazy wild-eyed lunatic who has dropped out of life to go chase the horizon. It is entirely achievable to achieve have a big adventure without ruining everything else that feels important or unavoidable in your life.
You can go on a cycling adventure by yourself, go with a friend, go on a tandem, go on a tandem by yourself and pick up passengers along the way, go on your honeymoon, go as a family, or go as a couple and return as a family. You dont need to be fit and strong (though you soon will become that). You dont need to be rich (indeed, I believe that the more basic your bike journey, the longer it will linger in the memory). You dont need to be tough. You dont need to be clever, or skilful, or practical. You dont need to serve years of apprenticeship before tackling something huge. If you want to cycle 200 miles in a day, youll soon be able to. If you want to snooze off a long lunch of Romanian homebrew underneath a tree, you can probably manage that right away.
In other words, a bicycle journey can be whatever you want it to be.
If you are interested in adventure on any scale, I would urge you to consider going for a bike ride. Do not discount yourself on the grounds of age, gender, disability, fitness, or a dislike of camping: the adventurers in my newbook should make that abundantly clear.
My new book, Grand Adventures, answers many questions such as this. It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore. There are also interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
I would also be really thankfulif you could share this link on social media with all your friends – https://amzn.to/20IMYDt. It honestly would help me far more than you realise.
Thank you so much!