This week's guest blogger is Sam Mould, an 'artist-adventurer' who regularly combines these two passions to create works of art inspired by and facilitated by the undertaking of long journeys by bicycle. Here she discusses why cycling is such a desirable way to travel:
Why travel by bike?
My first response to this question was ‘it’s obvious isn’t it?’ The pursuit of happiness is on two wheels. My bike is a beautiful thing. In working order it responds to my every whim. It’s an extension of one’s being. But that’s a relatively short and uninformative answer and I began to wonder, why, in fact, I actually choose to travel by bike. It’s a fundamental part of who I am, and cycling as I recall doesn’t always breed happiness, in fact sometimes it feels rather like you’ve shot yourself in the foot and you ask yourself, why? why? why?
In London I ride to work, to the studio, from work, from the studio, sometimes for work, sometimes for art, to the lido, to keep fit, to bathe in the air and frolic in the sunshine, to get to the foot of a hill, to go climbing, to freewheel, to see the sights, to smell the sea, to escape, to forget, to remember, to quench my restlessness, to get home, to stay sane. Travelling by bicycle in London represents life beyond my physiotherapist’s tunic, life beyond who people think I am. It’s a way of being outside the daily grind.
But there is more to travelling by bike. Last year I made a promise to a kiwi friend of mine. She wanted to see more of Europe before returning home to New Zealand and after devising numerous ridiculous ways of seeing more of Europe, the sanest way seemed to be to cycle the length of the continent. That promise, made on a whim, led to a two month, self supported cycling adventure from Nordkapp in northern Norway, to Tarifa in southern Spain.
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.
The latest instalment in my guest blog series (examining why some of us choose to travel long distances on bikes) comes from Sean Conway. Sean recently made national headlines for having a ridiculously awesome beard (and also for being the first person to swim the length of Britain.) Prior to that, however, he cycled around the world, and despite getting run over en route he still covered 16,000 miles in just 116 days. Below Sean shares with us his thoughts and motivations on taking to the pedals:
It’s the 31st December 1939 and a thin tired man dismounts his bicycle after spending 365 days in the saddle. The crowd and media surround him as he wobbles on his legs. He has been riding from 4am till midnight every single day for the entire year and has forgotten how to walk. His name is Tommy Godwin and he has destroyed the record for the most miles cycled in a year having covered the unimaginable distance of 75,065 miles. Already a hero he decides he’s not done. He takes a few days off and carries on and eventually completes an astonishing 100,000 miles in 500 days. That’s an average of 200 miles per day on a heavy steel bike, a record that even in today’s standards seems impossible – so much so Guinness have decided it’s too dangerous for anyone else to attempt and have discontinued it.
Ultra-long distance cycling has always fascinated me. The distances that can be covered turn even a large country like America into a two-week crossing. Unfortunately since 1939 ultra-long distance cycling has taken a dive in popularity. Had we reached our physical limit? Did less people cycle due to better public transport and the mass production of cars? Whatever the reason was, people just weren’t that interested in doing big miles on bikes anymore.
This changed somewhat in 2008 when Mark Beaumont broke the record for round the world cycling completing 18,000 miles in under 200 days, averaging 100 miles per day. Although far off Tommy Godwin’s pace it started to capture people’s imagination in long distance cycling again. In the 1930’s the goal was to cycle the most miles in a year. It was now who could cycle around the world the fastest. A new wave of ultra-long distance cyclists was reborn.
In 2010 I set off from New York City on a bicycle, headed west for an indefinite amount of time. The bike was my one-way ticket to new experiences, and I was determined to see what lay beyond the boundaries of comfortable living.
There were a lot of reasons why I decided to launch off across America on a bike, but the main one was that I just wanted to - to be more specific, I felt I needed to.
It didn't matter that it was America, or even that I was on a bike. What was important was that I was 22 years old and I felt completely mollycoddled by my previous life in the UK (my knowledge of the word mollycoddle was a prime example of this.) I'd never been tested; never been tried and found wanting. I'd almost always been comfortable and safe, and more than anything I wanted to break free of that for even just a little while.
I wanted to head off into the wilderness, towards places and people that scared me because I knew nothing about them, and to see what would happen when I arrived. How would I respond? If it went well, I would learn to trust in myself a lot more. If it went badly, at least I'd know comprehensively that I was in fact a wimp, and I should return home to wrap myself back up in cotton wool.
I've always found there to be something irresistibly appealing about cycle touring, and it's clear that I'm not alone - cycling is fast becoming the new backpacking! But what is it that is so attractive about it? I wrote down a few of my thoughts here, and over the next couple of months this blog will be hosting a number of guest posts on the theme of 'Why travel by bicycle?' in an effort to hear a wide range of perspectives.
First up, we have Tim and Laura Moss, who are on the road as we speak/type/read. Last summer they set off from England, headed for Australia - so far they've cycled across Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East and are currently in India. It's a great trip to follow vicariously - they've had some great adventures, and both write wonderfully about the journey on their blog. Below, then, are their thoughts on why they love travelling by bicycle. Or at least, below are Laura's thoughts on that topic. Tim has rather helpfully taken a different approach, and decided to point out why he hates his bicycle...enjoy!
There are many great ways to travel - ways which offer a wonderful perspective for seeing the world and for exploring landscapes and cultures and everything inbetween. My pick has always been for the non-motorised ways; for the slower, more intimate journeys that occur when the power to move forward must be generated by one's own body. Over the last few years I've developed a love of walking, the slowest and most natural method of all, and most recently I also experimented with travelling by packraft (an inflatable boat that folds down to the size of a two-man tent.) My first ever adventures, however, all took place on bicycles and as I found on a recent trip by bike in Iran, it is still hard to beat the joys of cycling.
When I was 15 I set off to cycle around the UK with a couple of friends. I remember buying my first ever bike less than a week before we left. It took us four days to get out of Northern Ireland (we'd figured on one) and we spent much of that first trip making terrible navigational errors, complaining about how big the (small) hills were and apologising to policemen for accidentally cycling on motorways. It was brilliant! I loved it so much that the next summer I cycled with a friend from Northern Ireland to Germany for the football World Cup. It was another poorly planned escapade with more wrong turns than right, and in the end we only got there because Germany is so big that we couldn't help but run into it eventually. Needless to say, that adventure was also life-enhancingly wonderful. It didn't matter that we got lost, or weren't sure how to fix our bikes, or that we didn't speak any German (or French or Dutch) - all of our shortcomings seemed to add to the fun.
For the last 5 weeks I've been in Iran, attempting to follow the river Karun (the longest in the country) from source to sea.
Tom and I found all sorts of exciting, wild and madcap adventures in the mountains and plains of Southwest Iran. I'm very excited to share them with you in the coming weeks and months.
For now, here are a few very early pictures (the captions along the bottom will help orientate the images as a photo essay if you watch through from start to end.)
I'm also very hopeful that we'll be able to create a film of our story, so if you're keen to be updated on that then please pop your email address in the box below and I'll make sure you know when there's something to watch (no spam, I promise!)
Finally, I'm also very excited to let you know that after many years of pretending to write a book, I've eventually actually written a book! It tells the story of my very first (and still favourite) journey - cycling across America. The book will be published this summer, and as with the Iran film, there'll be more news to follow soon.
Enjoy the pictures!
With thanks to:
Here is a rudimentary photo essay of my journey around the British Isles by folding bike (for your enjoyment...)
The real start and end of any journey is leaving and returning to home (however you interpret 'home'...)
I started this journey in Northern Ireland, where I grew up, and set off from the rugged North Coast with a folding bike, a backpack and 19 days until I had to be back in London; minimalism is a stalwart of good adventure. I was reminded of that great Leonard Bernstein quote: "To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time."
On Friday I safely returned from my joyous little adventure around the British Isles. In 19 days I cycled 750 miles on a folding bicycle, climbed the 'Six Peaks' (the highest mountain in each of the six major regions) and saw some of the most beautiful parts of our wonderful islands.