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.
It’s been really fun reading all the previous answers to this question, and I think by and large a persons answer to this kind of question can often indicate their drive and mentality in other aspects of life too.
Sean’s emphasised the athletic achievement. Pushing mind and body to the limit. I’m not a stranger to occasional big days in the saddle, but the thought of consecutive 100-200 mile days of pedalling would drive me crazy because that’s not the appealing part of ‘why’ for me. To me, this approach misses out on a lot of the reasons why I like to travel. Chatting to locals, taking it all in, taking a day or three to explore somewhere you like, eating at BBQ joints, going for a surf, smelling the roses. Speeding past all this isn’t appealing to me.
Just being is a part of Tom’s reasoning that was very relateable. That’s something that I missed out on for the first few months of pedalling. I was always focused on where I would be in two weeks time and whether I was on schedule. It obviously depends on the type of person you are, but my advice if you’re looking to travel by bicycle would be to stop concentrating on where you’re going and focus on being present and making the most of the opportunities that arise during those moments.
I agree with Laura, that travelling by bicycle provides the perfect pace. Not too fast to miss things like communities that you might otherwise not consider, but not too slow as to feel like you’re making no progress. And it sounds like Tim has perhaps been caught in lightning storms before, too. His thoughts on having the same conversations over and over again are a real mental challenge that anyone partaking in the bike travel game will have to face. That one, single aspect can be really, really hard at times.
To whittle my own answer to why to just one thing, it wouldn’t be the amazing locations you wake up in, or the insanely tasty New Mexico green chilli tacos, or the sometimes necessary isolation that helps you clear your head and feel creative again. They are of course very valuable parts of the game that may be the most important parts for you personally. But for me it all revolves around the people that you inevitably meet because of this form of travel and, broader, what lessons we can take away from meeting new people.
It took the bicycle trip to learn this. That without human connection, life isn’t as good. That solitude is cool and all, but it wears thin. Travelling by bicycle, just like regular travelling does, put me in touch with people who will be friends for years to come. Shared experiences and memories that I will cherish. Pals who I am excited to see again and collaborate with. I guarantee this will happen to you too if you set off on a big bicycle journey. Conversations that simply and unassumingly begin with “Hey! Is that your bike outside?” will turn into awesome friendships and possibly open doors.
But there’s another side of that coin, and that is the isolation of being solo on the road for a year made me realise the importance of not taking those closest to you for granted. Sometimes you might need to escape, you might be burned out and want a fresh start or whatever, but you should never forget about the people who support you and keep you mentally healthy from a distance, because they’re the most important people in your life.
So looking at that question again. Why travel by bicycle? The great thing is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Whether it’s physically, geographically, or culturally attractive. Whether you’re doing it for athletic reasons to push yourself and make your odometer tick to 200, or you’re a 65 year old grandma setting forth on your first travelling experience, or you crave solitude, or like taking landscape photographs, or enjoy sharing experiences with people you’ve just met. Travelling by bicycle has the potential to tick almost any box you want it to tick. And I think, often, it has the potential to change your life and teach you valuable sh*t in the process.
You can read more about Dave's adventure on his website, Vague Direction. There is a particularly great archive of videos, blogs and photos of the people he met along the way.
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