Why not fly?

If you want to go to Australia you could get a plane.  Of course that is right but there may be reasons to travel another way. This page lists some of our practical and mildly philosophical thoughts.  These are a reflection of our personal views and may not work for others. However some may find some of them useful (and some may think it is all nonsense). If nothing else they will act as an aide memoire for our next cycling trip:

1. Slow is good: We cycle in order to see, hear and experience the journey.  The view is better at the top of a mountain if we have climbed through our own efforts. Maybe this is a trick of the mind to compensate for the pain but going slowing can maximise the delight. We see a landscape changing, little by little, as we climb. First there is a ridge, then we peek over it and finally the vista beyond appears in all its fascination. The slow cyclist hears the rush in the undergrowth and may catch sight of the deer, elk or other forest dweller where the racing cyclist sees nothing but the changing numbers on the cycle computer.  The “arriving” is not the point; it is maximising the experience of getting there.

2. Take a moment before accepting or rejecting hospitality, and then say “yes and thanks” unless there is a very good reasons to pass on the offer: Some of our best experiences have arisen from the casual offers of hospitality or kindness even though our initial reaction might have been to say “thanks but no thanks”. The “deal” – always unspoken – is that, in return for their kindness, we will entertain our host with travelling tales of life on the road and, of course, will offer the same hospitality to travellers when we return home. The British tendency is to hesitate and politely refuse the hospitality of strangers. It is deep within our psyche to do so but the offers on our trip were always genuine, even if made in a slightly hesitant way because they were not sure quite what we needed! But a measure of shyness on both sides is a great way to start a friendship.

3. However big the hill may be, you can only climb the section of road immediately in front of you. This is the cycling equivalent of Mao’s dictum that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. What it really means is not to worry too much about the section of hill around the corner, above the next rise or looking steeper on the profile map in a few miles time. Just focus on the delight of turning the pedals to climb this part of the hill and worry about the next part when you get to it. However, it is useful to know what you are taking on in advance to plan stops properly. We tried to avoid climbs late in the day when we were tired but this is not always possible. Don’t underestimate how long it can take to do a long climb and so don’t plan the day too long in terms of miles. Sometimes this meant adjusting the previous day to be sorter or longer so that we had an appropriate stopping place on a tough day.

4. You can never have too much water or too much food! There is always a temptation not to fill water bottles to the top in order to save weight (and water can be heavy) or avoid buying food until the next shop but our feeling is that we should resist these concerns. Running out of water and becoming dehydrated is a far bigger problem for the touring cyclist. The next village may be unoccupied or the creek on the map may be dry, and cycling with insufficient fluid inside is really tough. We carried a water bottle with water filter so that we could refill and drink safely from any source. We only needed it a couple of times but would have been very difficult without . More of a problem can be when the water sources are dry and we learnt to shamelessly flag down cars and ask if they had spare water if we were running low. Similarly you need calories on a tough cycling day – lots of them – and this is not the time to try to loose weight. Regular ‘refuelling’ is essential to keep going and it is good to eat in anticipation of a tough climb; ‘jelly’ legs were usually due to lack of food rather than muscle power. Chocolate bars and bananas can be good instant sugar boost to get you up final stretches – and much cheaper than fancy ‘sports nutrition’.

5. Don’t be a slave to low weight. Many cyclists seem to be obsessed by minimising weight, focusing on the lightest bike and taking the fewest items possible. There is of course a balance to be struck;  more weight means more effort, particularly uphill (see going slow below). However we couldn’t imagine a trip without books to read (luckily this time on e-readers) and we found the ipad mini with small detachable bluetooth keyboard really enanced the trip and internet was generally more available in cafe’s in the mountains than mobile phone coverage. A battery recharging unit is worth is weight. The Garmin, this iPad, Kindle and phones are all useful on a cycling trip in the 21st century; but keeping them charged them can be a headache. A small recharging unit worked well for us and kept the electronics afloat.

6. A trailer works better than panniers: Many will disagree but overall we are firm supporters of trailers. Heavy panniers seem to be tougher on the bike and racks inevitably break. A trailer weighs no more than the panniers but is more flexible and stable. Panniers need to be properly weighted side to side and front to back and we rarely got this right.

7. Days off the bike enhance the experience of every day of cycling: A “day off” is not a cop out for the weak but an essential time out for the sane cyclist, to allow recovery time and avoid injury. We tended to prefer stops in towns than in remote country but lakeside stops were also great.  We enjoyed our days in the saddle far more if we had about 1 day in 4 or 5 off the bikes.
8. Cycling creates valuable personal brain space, so record your thoughts: Keeping a diary or a blog is mainly for ourselves and only marginally for others (sorry to those who thought it was really for them). The slow rhythm of the trip brings the rest of life into a unique perspective, but we sought to record it before getting engulfed back in the pressures of normal existence. When we read back our words they may seem valuable or may be idealistic nonsense. But if hadn’t make a record at the time the perspectives from the saddle will be lost like water down a creek.
9. Hair shirts itch too much to wear all the time: We camp because it can be enjoyable but if we can afford it and it seems right, we pay for a bed. We cook most of our own meals but eat something others have cooked at some point most days. There can be a minimalist tendency amongst travellers – attempting to travel for the least possible cost and treating that hair shirt as a mark of honour. Whilst we have nothing against that and understand why this can be necessary for those on a tight budget, avoiding expenditure for its own sake rather than for a proper budgetary reason is not how we like to travel. The cycling is tough enough for us “middle-agers” and there are no prizes for monastic living as well.
10. Leave nothing behind but inspiration and good memories in those we meet; and take nothing but photos. Some of the best parts of every trip have been the positive responses (often on the blog) we have got from the people we have met. As touring cyclists we came from a completely different culture, with different life experiences and a whole different way of seeing the world.  Those differences could add up to a small, positive experience in the worlds of our hosts. We are, we admit, pretty unusual folk and that gives us something to offer. We learned so much from all of our hosts (thanks to you all) and the feeling we left good memories of enjoyable chat, shared experiences and lots of laughter added vastly to our enjoyment of the weeks on the road.
Here endeth the lesson…

1 thought on “Why not fly?

  1. beautifully and powerfully said, Bernie and David. I am so enjoying following your travels and your rich experiences which you are sharing so generously along the way. Go well! Angela

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