I am not raising money for charity, this is my vacation. Bicycle touring is an excellent form of adventure! It lets you live from day to day, taking each hill or each challenge as it comes. At the same time, one can be goal oriented to make your way across an entire continent or two. Touring gives a good feel for the country, its geography and its people. You get a chance to meet some locals, even if with a passing smile. At the same time, you can travel further than you might by walking. With some effort, you can cross a continent, fifty or a hundred miles at a time.
My first cross-continent tour was in 1992. I rode some long days and crossed the country in just over five weeks. It was intense but also a great trip and something I had wanted to do for a while. Later that year, our lab at work was downsized and myself and co-workers needed to find new jobs inside or outside the company. I was fortunate and found something fairly quickly, moving to Massachusetts but staying with the same company. However it was not without thinking to myself, “I sure am glad I did that ride this past summer! You can take my job, but you can’t ever take away those experiences I had.”
I vowed to myself that I’d take time off again to do another trip like that. I did many shorter trips, but was able to put together another trip in 1997. This time I spent three months and crossed Canada starting in Fairbanks, AK and ending up in St John’s Newfoundland. I took a LOA from work and used this as a chance to “rotate” to a work position in California.
Three months after moving to California for what I thought was a two year rotation, the lab back in Massachusetts was shut down – and the “rotation” became indefinite. At some point, I got a little more definite about planning another trip. I had seen articles in National Geographic about a cyclist that spent more than a year riding once around the outside of Australia. Wow! That caught my fancy and I decided in a few years I’d look for an opportunity for a similar trip. I gave my bosses plenty of notice and in 2001. This time I took a twelve month LOA and started with a two month warmup ride across the USA. I spent eight months riding one lap around Australia, followed by a month in New Zealand and six weeks riding through South India. It was another wonderful trip and chance to cross a second continent. By now the pattern had been set, by the time I finished my ride around Australia, I decided five years would be the right time frame for another long ride.
The idea for my next big ride came in 2004 when I spotted internet articles and photos showing Putin opening a new road across Russia, with Russians in big fur hats looking on. It wasn’t all paved yet, but it was now possible to travel across Russia by road. I started learning Russian and in 2007, exactly five years after I returned from Australia, I set off on the next big adventure. After a month of warmup cycling in Texas, I flew to Amsterdam and spent the next six months cycling across both Europe and Asia to end in Vladivostok. I wasn’t done yet, but instead flew to western China where I joined an organized tour led by a group named TDA Global Cycling on their first cross-Asia ride from Istanbul to Beijing. I only cycled the last third with them but spent two months in China and then a month cycling by myself in Thailand. Another excellent ride and with addition of Europe and Asia, meant I had now crossed four continents. Even before leaving China, I planted a seed for the next adventure by signing up for TDA’s cross-Africa ride.
That next adventure came in 2013, when I spent four months on the Tour d’Afrique ride cycling from Cairo to Capetown. It was an excellent and fast paced adventure. As in China, the support TDA provided was well done and enabled me to deal with languages and borders that would have been daunting had I ridden them myself. At the same time, it was a little nagging that I wasn’t quite able to ride 100% of the ride. One portion I got heat exhaustion in Sudan and in another point I got an infection in my leg that swelled it up. If I had been traveling on my own, I would have simply waited and gone at the pace I could, but with a group the show goes on and I made prudent choices to also ride the truck in selected portions. After Africa, I took a little more time to unwind with a bicycle ride in US from Portland, OR to Denver. With addition of Africa, I had now crossed five continents.
What I learned from these five big trips that I enjoyed working hard for four or five years and then being able to take an extended break. In the computer industry there is enough organizational changes, occasional downsizing and other churn, that there probably isn’t an “ideal” time to take off. Rather than wait or delay everything until retirement, I’ve instead been fortunate to place a mark on the wall a few years out, dream and scheme about that trip and then just take some time off. It has worked well, kept me energized and challenged and led to some excellent adventures of which I consider this the sixth edition.
Having cycled five continents, it becomes tempting to consider cycling the remaining two. However, I’m also realistic enough to realize that Antarctica is an entirely different class of adventure and that I’m not going to be the first person to cycle all the way across the continent (some have recently cycled halfway from the coast to the South Pole, but still too extreme for me). Hence, as a practical matter that leaves South America. Rather than just cycling South America, I figured I could warm up by first cycling from Alaska via Canada and through the US and then cycling through Mexico and Central America. Overall a nice progression to make sure equipment and everything is working well before entering the Spanish-speaking region. Also a good chance to cycle all the way across the Americas, and making this longest trip yet. An adventure like this goes one pedal stroke at a time, so while I’ve got an overall goal, I’m mostly concentrating on enjoying each immediate section in front of me. That is part of why I like cycle touring.