Why?

I like riding around on my bike, and I’ve got a bit of an autobiographical streak. So, naturally, I put up a blog about bicycling.

I’m also a bit obsessive about the reasons I do things. Relatively speaking, bike touring is not a very popular activity, though it’s becoming more so in recent years. Why do I like it so much?

The things I like about bicycle touring:

  • It’s healthy aerobic exercise that’s easy on the body.
  • It brings new environments, in a context where they can be patiently and clearly explored.
  • It gives a way to connect with new people in those environments.
  • As long-range personal travel goes, it has an extremely low environmental impact.

These all combine to create a unique and very rewarding kind of travel.

I like to think that compared to most other types of tourists, bicycle tourists are more concerned with the environmental and social costs of their travel. In other words, more likely to feel guilty. I’ve struggled with my own share of this guilt and tried to address the biggest reasons for it:

Bad or selfish things about bicycle touring:

Instead of spending money on bike parts and campsites, couldn’t I donate my money to a good charity, where it would benefit more people?

There’s no escaping the fact that it would be more charitable of me to stay indoors, with my nose to the grindstone, and pass every extra dollar on to those less fortunate. But I also need to attend to my own well-being. Time on my bicycle is “me time”, selfish by design, like any other grand adventure such as climbing a mountain, dancing in a musical, or struggling to beat a master at chess. It’s not something I do to survive, it’s something I do to live.

But being a tourist doesn’t produce anything!

When I’m on a bike tour I do not intend to stay permanently out of the workforce; in fact I know I would soon go crazy living that way. After basking in the warm glow of making a real contribution to important work, I’ve discovered that it feeds my adult soul in a way no perpetual indulgence ever could. I can’t be just a tourist.

But isn’t my desire for travel as entertainment an embarrassing example of western decadence?

Sensing the pattern here? Eco-conscious bike tourists are experts at the self-directed guilt trip! Yes, travel for reasons other than survival and work is decadent. But…

I’m reminded of a certain political figure from Alaska, who was big in the 2000’s. She stood in front of a convention and declared, with a self-satisfied smile, “When my kids graduated from high school, I didn’t send them on some backpacking trip around Europe for the summer. No, they got jobs.” The audience applauded her. Take that, you elite liberal snobs!

A few years later, after she became a multi-millionaire, she loaded her entire family onto a converted tour-bus and took them on a meandering joyride all over the country.

I fully admit that my own vacation time is decadent compared to the situation endured by millions of less fortunate people, but I can swear at least one thing to you: I will not be a stinking hypocrite about it.

It’s a bit weird living in a place where you get constant first-hand exposure to the extremes of poverty and wealth. In the same day, I’ve met with the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation in a glass-and-steel office, and then hours later talked to a ragged man standing barefoot in a homeless camp (and shared some of my food with him.) Sometimes it seems like taking any time or pleasure for yourself is a crime, in a world with such imbalance. Other times it seems like you’re guaranteed to go crazy unless you do.

But the constant motion of touring doesn’t provide in-depth exposure to any one place or people, does it?

I feel like my career as a computer programmer has given me tunnel-vision, and even though I am surrounded by a city full of people who know very little about computers and nevertheless make a respectable living, I have no concrete idea of what their work feels like.

Perhaps I used to as a teenager, when I would come home exhausted and sticky from working a fast-food grill, or when my hands began to corrode from constant washing between shelving groceries and serving customers at the ice cream counter. But now those days are far away, and I am cocooned in a quiet, cerebral career that pays the bills without struggle.

The kind of bike touring I like to do involves setting a start and a destination, and then taking however long it takes to get between them. Having the chance to pause wherever I am and dig deeper is important to me, and I think it will also help me get more of the perspective I feel I’m lacking.

Also, I know I’m too much of a homebody to do this perpetually. During the downtime, here and there, perhaps I can do other things to sustain the connections I make along the way. Follow up with conversations; circle back a bit.

A website about bike touring?

As a kid, I kept a diary well before there was an internet to blog on. I’ve stuck with it because I’ve discovered that the habit of collecting my thoughts helps me squeeze more meaning and satisfaction out of life.

Putting this stuff online, where friends and family can see it, is a way of making myself more accountable for the process. I like the results and I like working on it. Plus I have some vague idea in the back of my mind that it might serve as a resource or inspiration for other people who want to try bike touring.

Of course, there are arguments against blogging, just as there are arguments against bike touring itself:

Won’t I feel compelled to maintain it instead of exploring “in the moment?”

This is a possibility. I like putting in the time to write but there does need to be balance. If I find myself turning down the chance to explore so I can catch up with a writing backlog, I should ease up on the writing and just take pictures or mutter into a voice memo instead. I’ve done some work with gadgets to make the process efficient — scripts to process photos and GPS logs, for example. There’s more I could be doing there.

If you make your journey public, people who want to harm you can find you!

In my previous trips I’ve discovered that the real threat is not premeditated actions from a distance. It’s opportunistic locals who see me passing on the road, or see me dining in a restaurant, and feel like messing with an outsider. Also, making my location available online might actually help my friends figure out what happened if I end up tied to a tree somewhere. (Presumably after being held at gunpoint and ordered to “squeal like a piggie!!” or whatever.)

Isn’t blogging about this stuff just a way to show off?

I know plenty of people who have better gear, better legs, and more distance traveled than I could ever hope for.

Everyone’s got adequate cause for humility.

But by putting up my own thing, I’m making yet another island of information which would be more useful if spread around elsewhere.

Now this is an interesting point. Ken Kifer’s Bike Pages and Sheldon Brown’s Technical Pages are wonderful resources that every cyclist should explore, and if I can make a meaningful edit or addition to those, why shouldn’t I just contact the creators directly? That way, more people could benefit from what I learn, instead of the relative few who might stumble across this site.

Perhaps I should look into that once I’ve got some decent content up here.

2 Responses to Why?

  1. Janet Noble says:

    A note to compliment you on your Valoria story! It was so well written and quite a compelling and fascinating story.

    My favorite section was when you told the story from the bike’s point of view! Very well done!

    My husband, Brian Aldrich, and I are longtime members of GPC, and Zach Kaplan shared a link to your detective story to club members (as there was a discussion going about bike theft issues).

    And CONGRATULATIONS on your success in getting your bike back!

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