All wired up for cycle touring

Wired up as in: cycle touring with bicycle computer, laptop computer, satellite communicator, GPS receiver, iPhone, satellite phone, mobile broadband USB stick, digital camera, video camera, blogging website, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Skype, cycling forum membership, etc, which altogether defeat the object of going away for a while on a bicycle, unless the object is an exhibition cycle tour in which you try to make sure as many people as possible know exactly where you are now and what you're thinking at this moment, and you'd like them to see a hi-res photo of the Thai chicken rice dinner you're about to eat.

The Places In Between is a book by Rory Stewart in which he describes his walk across Afghanistan in 2001. Visually, it contains just a few crude maps and black and white photos; probably the worst illustrations I've seen in a book. Any book. But the book is one of the best I've read and all the better for leaving things to the imagination. It's inconceivable that Rory would have blogged his way along his walk. Of course he had to wait until the end of his trip before he could publish his experiences, although he kept a written diary and drew some sketches as he went along. But then I suppose if you're on a four-year cycle tour around the world it's natural enough to run a blog.

It's a matter of degree. Preferably, there's a mystique about foreign lands and faraway places. Traditionally, going away somewhere meant being out of touch. That was part of the point of it. Digital technology is sweeping this away as long distance travellers keep us informed of their every move. Even shorter distance travellers do this, as witnessed by cyclists doing Land's End to John O'Groats in the UK, blogging daily updates over the space of a couple of weeks.

If this is part of the fun of travelling on a bicycle, so be it. But it's a pity when cycle tourists feel a need to burden themselves with all this nonsense, and I'm saying this as someone who follows a few online. I agree with Tom from a small village in England who says this kind of stuff gnaws at his sensibilities. In the end it must surely also gnaw at the traveller's enthusiasm and the will to go on. The journey begins like this:

I am more motivated by the promise of new smells, vibrant colors, indescribable flavors, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In short, I am looking to connect with the world on a deeper level with all of my senses. In a time when cynicism rampantly infects our society, and the media teaches children and adults alike to fear foreign cultures, I am looking for ever more examples of the beauty of humanity. Every morning I look at my bike and my longing for this trip gets stronger. I can't wait to give up life as I know it in favor of the road in a strange country with no worries except where I am going to sleep.

Later on, a year down the track:

Our life on the road, and the small mountain of responsibilities we created to go with it, were uncharacteristically overwhelming to me. Those things which normally fill my life with intense purpose, had instead became a heavy burden ... It all felt absurd. I didn't want to pedal a single kilometer ... to further this "misery" seemed insane. My excitement about our endeavour had vanished ... Sadly, it is becoming very apparent that the longer we travel, the higher our standards become for what we find interesting. By now ... we've taken in enough Medieval architecture to last us a lifetime. The former allure of a beautifully preserved walled city is now relegated to mild interest ... Two whole weeks... no journals... no biking... heaven!

[ From Going Slowly – Something's Got to Give ]

Tara and Tyler will hopefully regain their world cycle touring motivation after they've travelled through Russia by car. They are good writers and excellent photographers but my suggestion would be: if you have to stay connected, at least dump your stupid Facebook and Twitter and blog less frequently. Simplify your website and write more frugally like Ken Roberts. Often, less is more.

There's another expression we used at college when I studied architecture: long life, low energy, loose fit. I think it was to do with sustainable buildings but can equally be applied to other walks of life: relationships and long-distance travelling especially. The opposite way (high energy, tight fit) tends to result in burnout.

Poppies in a Field by tylerkellen, on Flickr

Poppies in a Field (www.goingslowly.com)

One comment on “All wired up for cycle touring”

  1. Garry Lee wrote:

    Well written. We all desire the unknown and constant change. That's what keeps us interested. One of the side-effects of visiting the unknown is that it then loses its mystique. I've pals who want to cycle again and again in France. I've toured in France 20 times or more and have been in most but not all areas of it. I've no desire to go there again. It's lost its mystique for me. I do not like the much vaunted French bread, their coffee is disgusting, their breakfasts are useless for the cyclist, and it never changes as a country. I'm not a francophobe and in fact speak the language pretty well, and I love the French sense of humour.

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