Our friends' responses when they first heard we were planning on cycling the Americas were mostly along the lines of “You know they have buses that go there right?”. To most people the idea of cycling across countries is completely foreign. A bicycle is something that you ride around town, or on a Sunday ride along the river. Packing everything up onto a bike and peddling thousands of kilometres is not something that most people would consider when planning a holiday.
I was once one of the non-believers. I had never heard of the concept of cycle-touring, until I met Sonja, a Aussie chick with the spirit of adventure, in Kathmandu. We hiked together for a month and over this time she slowly managed to wheedle the idea of travelling by two wheels into my brain. We ended up in Bangkok where I bought my bike and where my first experience of cycling touring almost killed us both. Sonja was sitting on the back of my bike and I was trying to dinky her through the traffic of Bangkok - straight into the line of an oncoming bus. However, we managed to survive this ordeal, and many others where I wobbled around the roads of South-east Asia (co-ordination not being my strongest asset), and this was enough to sell me on the joy of travelling by bike. I was hooked and instead of spending money on a plane ticket home to Perth, Australia, I flew to Darwin and proceeded to head home on the treadly. Now here I am, about eight years later half way through cycling from Alaska to Argentina.
But why is cycle touring so appealing? You spend most of the day puffing, panting and sweating and at the end of the day you aren't really that far from where you started. But when you do manage to slow down your breathing, wipe the sweat out of your eyes and actually look around you, you realise why you are doing it. I believe that when cycle-touring you are travelling at the ideal pace. Unlike zooming by in a car or bus you actually have enough time to look around and appreciate what you are seeing. It also makes it very easy to stop if you want to check something out, or just to have 'a moment'. While I still love to hike, travelling by foot is certainly a lot slower and, unlike hiking, your bike carries the weight for you which is a real bonus for the back!
There is also that feeling you get when you are actually in the landscape, as opposed to separated from it by the windows of a car or bus. When I try to explain this I end up sounding a bit like my old hippy mother when she starts raving on about mother-earth and the cosmic forces. But really there is no other non-hippy way to explain it... you start to feel as one with the landscape.
Another joy of cycle-touring is the places that you get too. Most people when travelling end up in the same places, some may get off the beaten track occasionally but most of the time you follow the general trail of other tourists, or where public transport takes you. When cycle touring you will inevitably end up in some small town where tourists are rarely seen and where you otherwise would not probably stop. Travelling through smaller places inevitably brings with it an interest from the locals in yourself and your gear. I love the children's response the most as it is usually with abandon and without thought. We have had kids run away from us, run alongside us, line up to high-5 us and of course my personal favourite- roll around laughing at our appearance. Once you get over the neuroses--forming idea that you the funniest thing that these kids have ever seen it is refreshing to see yourself through their eyes.
And this brings me to what I consider the most important reason to cycle-tour... The people you meet. From American city dwellers to Costa Rican campesinos, to Mexican police officers and Colombian extended families - we have met so many amazing, interesting, kind and generous people in our travels. People that stop for a chat, that invite us to stay in their house, or that just give us a beep or a thumbs-up from a car that passes. Cycle-touring is enough to rekindle your hope in the human spirit and the kindness of strangers... but that's another whole blogs worth of stories!