I’m about to do it again, another epic journey in my late-in-life discovery of long-distance bike touring.
Three years ago, I found myself in the middle of a sand storm in Cairo about to embark on a four-month bike trek, wild camping, the length of Africa (11,000 km) to Cape Town. I was pushing 70 and had only ever been an occasional urban cyclist tootling around the city on a 20-year-old Norco. I (and more than a few of my friends and family) did wonder if I’d been seized by a Lear-like madness. Whatever! That expedition cast a magic spell on me. The reduction of life to bare, hard simplicities, a kind of hermitic existence on two wheels, captured me to the point of obsession verging on addiction.
Ferocious headwinds, searing heat, monster RVs
After Africa, I thought, what next? I’ve done one continent, why not do others? I got the crazy idea of biking all of them (bar Antarctica) before I hit 80. I was getting ready for South America (Cartagena to Tierra del Fuego) when COVID put a halt to all travel. After two years, I finally got a tide-me-over touring fix when I biked across the U.S. from Los Angeles to Savannah this past September. I thought that trip would be relatively tame compared to Africa. Nope.
The west to east crossing is supposed to be the way to go given prevailing westerlies. Well, like everything else in our topsy-turvy world, the westerlies have become easterlies. There were days on end fighting headwinds gusting to 60 km/h. Even that couldn’t dampen the ardour with which I embraced my new cycling life. Neither did the 45 C heat in the California deserts, the freezing temperatures in the mountains of New Mexico or being clipped by one of the monster RVs that dominated the Arizona roads. The big lesson of that trip was that life on two wheels is always going to surprise you.
14,000 km, 129 riding days, 9 countries, 1 continent
I got back from the U.S. and was casting about for the next big one. Now it’s about to happen. On July 4, I fly to Tuktoyaktuk in the Arctic. I’ll dip my wheels into the Arctic Ocean and start the long ride (14,000 km) down to the Panama Canal. The route is basically along the spine of the continent: the Rockies, the Sierras and the mountains of Mexico and Central America. I’m getting a nose bleed just thinking about all that climbing.
I’ll be riding for six months. Halfway along, I’ll celebrate my 74th birthday. It’s a supported ride with a group called TDA Global Cycling. They’re there if you need them but otherwise you’re left to your own devices. The only rule is arrive at the campsite before dark. I grew to love and trust them in Africa and across the States.
What life on two wheels can tell us about a world in turmoil
I’ll be blogging roughly weekly (on rest days) about my adventures and misadventures as well as reflections on training, what it takes to ride long distances day after day for months on end; the mental attributes and coping strategies for the unpredictability of life on the road; what it’s like to be an older cyclist; and on the ineffable nature of the biking Tao.
This’ll also be a great opportunity to get the pulse of a continent in its shifting moods as we adapt to post-COVID life in a world in turmoil. So, all along the way, I’ll reach out to connect with people in all walks of life by the roadside, at coffee shops, campgrounds, roadside stops, diners, etc.
Every voyage is a voyage of discovery
As I started on my first, the African, journey I wrote (rather hopefully): “This is a story about crossing boundaries, literal and metaphorical. It is about the reasons we travel: every voyage is a voyage of discovery, of the other and of oneself. These voyages have no age expiry date. At 70, one can be as captivated by wonder as at seven. It takes the magic of place to turn the key of wonder. As with any true voyage, the challenges will be many and there are no guarantees. Regardless of how far I manage this, the important thing is setting out.”
I read that as I’m about to set off again and think, yes, it still holds true.