Editor’s note: I’m honored to have Rachel write for our site once again for our 20th anniversary. I asked her if she would like to share a lesson she learned from her travels around the world on a bicycle, and I was shocked that she coincidentally — or not so coincidentally — shares one of the biggest lessons that I discovered on my travels around the world on a bicycle. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so you’ll have to read this story to the end, but whether you are an avid traveler or an armchair traveler, you’ll find a lesson that you can apply to your everyday life.
“A cheetah is hunting,” our guide says; it’s 1994 in the Serengeti, Africa.
From a safari vehicle, we see a giraffe, yet our guide sees the behavior of the giraffe and knows a cheetah is in the grass hunting. Then… there… emerging from the grass is the cheetah stalking the giraffe.
To me, this is the reason to travel and the ultimate expression of Henry Miller’s quote,
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.Henry Miller
In day-to-day life, one sees what one knows and what one focuses upon. Traveling in general and even better by bike, allows you to see things differently and “to see a thousand lives you might have lived.”
In preparing for my first solo tour, a goal was to look at the culture of consumerism. And then, ironically, I watched as I went about buying a new bike, new equipment and new clothes. Once on the tour, I noticed there was a tension between constant change and a longing for something familiar and routine. Every day is different, and yet it’s okay that you are wearing the same clothes. When at home, we change the clothes we wear to get variety. When I first started on tour, I watched myself develop routines amid the daily changes. Then over time, I watched as I changed those routines. (Except the routine of how I packed my panniers, I found doing that the same way, things in the same place; I was less likely to leave something behind.) Order becomes Chaos; Chaos becomes Order.
After a year cycling solo, I met up with a Dutchman in Africa, and we decided to spend nine months cycling together from Capetown to Nairobi. That was an interesting transition now cycling with someone. Though nice to share the decisions and tasks, it was not always easy. We divided the best way to share tasks by our skills and melded two different styles of cycling. We cycle alone, yet together, always within sight of each other, we ride our own pace. Married in 1995, we did a 5-week “honeymoon” ride through Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. This was another transition, no longer independent cyclists, we were now committed to staying together. Over the years with another three tours, we have honed our routine of setting up and breaking camp.
When cycling in Africa, I saw how we in the Western world have a billion-dollar recreational industry for people to go live and play outside, and cook over an open fire. In Zambia, staying at an old British resort, we were eating in the restaurant when the lights went out and candles were lit out of necessity. At home, we would have chosen to turn the lights out, light a candle and called it a romantic dinner. On tour, we were choosing to ride our bikes for “fun” whereas the bicycle in Africa is transportation. We are doing the same things yet with a different intention.
Our favorite quote explains the beauty of bicycle touring perfectly:
Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.Jimmy Buffet
Traveling by bike is the ultimate freedom. On a bike, you become part of the scenery; the landscape is not framed by a window. Slowly, you see snapshots of people’s daily lives and can interact with them. The day gets down to basics of where to: eat, find water, and sleep… then chores like laundry every few days.
The excitement of travel and knowing that home is there to return to, allows us to be fully immersed in where we are in the moment. The advent of the internet, social media, and Skype has changed this. We now have instant contact with our neighbors and family—there is always a tiny thread that keeps us connected. The key is to see where you are and not compare it to where you were. “This isn’t any better than that, only different.”
Each time that we have ended a trip, we are left with wanting to do more. People ask, “Do you get homesick?” The counter to being homesick is what happens when you do go home after a long tour — the travel bug or, worse, culture shock. When you first take off on an extended tour, it takes a few months to shift realities: from the feeling you are only on vacation, to where being on the road becomes your new reality. The reverse happens once the tour ends: one may long to be on the road again, but the cure to the travel bug is to see your own backyard through the eyes of the traveler.
We often think travel means going far away to exotic places and we miss what is in our own backyards.