This week, we hear from Dave Gill, a once-disillusioned video producer who left everything behind to spend a year chasing sunsets across the USA and Canada on a bicycle. His focus was people - meaningful and interesting interactions - and below he tells us why the bicycle is a good way to find those. As someone who also set off across North America on two wheels, I think Dave has got it bang on with this one...
Why travel by bicycle? is a fascinatingly simple question but one that I’ve thought about a lot. Sometimes whilst literally feeling rage pulse through my veins, looking at three snapped spokes and a puncture, and being far away from anywhere in a lightning storm. In moments like that, the question shifts to a more expletive-driven one. ‘Why the F*CK am I travelling by bicycle?!’. But it’s not like that most of the time.
At the end of 2012 I was burned out and wanted to do something new that I had no experience of. When I weighed up the options, a long-distance cycling journey seemed like the best thing to do. So, the first time I ever travelled by bicycle was when I set off to cycle a loop of North America, and during that year-long journey my answer to why changed a lot. For example, with hindsight I wouldn’t have been so fixed to the idea of a loop or a final destination or a timeframe at all.
There were a few different reasons for choosing to ride. One was I needed to get away and recharge and go somewhere where I had no ties and could feel creative again. Another was I wanted to meet a bunch of people and see if they’d ever struggled with similar things such as burn-out. Three, I love North American geography - how there’s beautiful mountains, epic coastlines, vast desert and more. And four, I wanted to get healthy again. For the past few years I had let being physically healthy fall by the wayside and I missed it.
This week's guest writer on the topic of 'Why travel by bicycle' is Tom Allen - an adventure cyclist, blogger and filmmaker. His bike trips have taken him thousands of miles through tens and tens of countries around the world, including the sorts of places that many travellers would desperately seek to avoid (think Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia.)
Tom's inaugural years of bicycle travel were subsequently made into a feature film, Janapar, which is simply a must-watch for anyone with even the slightest interest in adventure. Most recently, of course, his 'career' hit a new high point when he had the great honour of going on an a trip with one of his all-time heroes...
Below Tom shares his thoughts on why he so often chooses bicycles for his particular brand of adventurous travel.
Oh boy. Have I got a tough job ahead of me. How is it possible to provide a satisfactory answer to a question saddled from the word go with so many possible distortions of meaning?
Perhaps I should first explain all the things that "travel by bicycle" does not mean.
In fact, no. Let's go even further back to basics and deal with what is meant by "travel", seeing as almost everyone gets this wrong.
When you get into a car, onto a train or plane or bus, or even when you leave the house on foot, you do so almost exclusively with the intention of going somewhere. You have a destination in mind, and your chosen mode of transport is the means of reaching it.
Every time you pack a suitcase, buy a ticket, plan an itinerary or open a guidebook, you are participating in a particular kind of travel - one that casts experiences as concrete, consumable lists of things, and places as things to go to and return from.
This sounds so stupidly, stupidly obvious. And that's exactly why I need to bring it up. Because in order to see the point of travelling by bicycle - and thus to answer the question of "why" one might travel by bicycle - you must first abandon entirely your traditional understanding of why you'd choose to travel in the first place.