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Interview with Tim and Cindie Travis (DownTheRoad.org) to be included in a book about cycling culture and the bicycle lifestyle published by Black Dog Publishing in London.
February , 2006
1. What type/make/brand of bike are you each riding?
We are riding touring bicycles (specifically designed for traveling with panniers) with 26 inch wheels. A complete description of our bikes is on our website www.DownTheRoad.org
2. What is the furthest distance you have cycled in a day? How many miles do you think you have cycled altogether?
We are not super athletes and have not set off to travel the world with the goal of generating impressive numbers. Two days tie as our longest at 133 kilometers (82 miles). The first was in the northern Chinese desert with a strong tailwind and the other in Cambodia on a flat road while riding with a pair of strong Canadians cyclists. A close second was descending a long hill out of the Andes in Argentina at 120 km (75 miles). I hope we never ride more kilometers in a single day because the longer we spend in the saddle the less time we have to interact with the people of the world.
Off hand we do not know the total distance we have ridden. Cindie records our kilometers in her daily journal posted on our website (www.DownTheRoad.org) but we have never found it important enough to add it up. The things that we do find important in our travels can not be added on a calculator.
3. What made you decide to bike round the world, rather than simply travel by plane/boat/train, etc? Do you think your journey is more about the cycling than it is about the countries or the sights that you see? What makes cycling better than walking? It says on your website that Cindie has done a lot of traveling previously, particularly by bus. How does this experience compare?
We are travelers first. Cycling is not the focus of our journey. Although we cycle the vast majority of the distance, I see cycling as a tool to immerse ourselves in the culture and people around us. This is best demonstrated by a story. Long before I met Cindie I rode through southern Mexico on a solo bicycle tour. One day, I took a break with several Mexican farmers having an afternoon drink in a cantina (pub). A debate broke out among the farmers as to why a foreign tourist would ride a bike through Mexico instead of taking the air conditioned bus. Most farmers in the cantina thought that a seemingly rich foreigner would prefer more upscale comforts. There was only one man in the group who stood up and defended my choice. I have never forgotten the elegant speech he gave that day. He was an elderly man and therefore, out of respect, the noisy room went quiet when he spoke. He said, “If my friend rides a bus he would easily see Mexico but when he rides his bicycle he also feels Mexico.” He demonstrated his point by gently dragging his fingers across the dirt floor. Years later I am glad to not only see the world but to also feel it.
We decided to bicycle round the world instead of taking public transportation because it puts us on the same level as the local population. We are not just observing but also interacting with the culture around us. We are much more approachable. I call it, “traveling on the ground floor of society” and this is the greatest gift cycling has given us. Personally, there is no better way to meet and learn from the people of the world.
Other than wilderness trekking I have never walked to travel. Therefore, I can not make comments as to which is better cycling or walking. It would seem to be an individual preference.
(From Cindie) There is no comparison between the joy of traveling by bicycle and watching the world though a window of a bus. Riding a bus is like watching a documentary about a country on a TV with a dirty screen. I prefer traveling by bicycle over a bus because on a bicycle I visit all the towns and villages on the way while on the bus I traveled from one tourist destination to another.
4. You also mention the phrase 'American dream' in the first chapter of your book. How would you define the American dream? Can cycling be a part of this?
Historically “American dream” referred to immigrants from abroad walking off a boat with very little money and building a prosperous life in the new world. I believe that this is still true today. As a public school teacher I have seen countless immigrant students and their families starting businesses, buying homes, educating their children, and generally going as far as their abilities will take them.
The term “American dream” can also imply the ability to obtain all the material comforts available in the developed world. After spending more than four years traveling internationally, I see that this definition of the “American dream” is not solely confined to the USA. Most (but not all) people we have met, given the opportunity, would buy a big house and fancy car. This is human nature.
I used this phrase “American dream” in my first book to describe our ability to buy a big house and fancy car. Instead, we bought a small house, drove old cars, and saved our money. Our dream was to travel which is not the typical American dream but still obtainable through hard work.
Can the bicycle be part of the “American dream?” My answer is yes. The “American dream” is flexible. If one dreams of cycling the opportunities are there. It is true that most people dream of cars and not bicycles but this can change.
5. Tim describes his independent journeys by bike when he left education. You are both riding your own bikes. However, your website mentions cycling groups, you two being brought together by cycling on your first date, and even involving bicycles in your wedding- uniting to ride a tandem. Do you see cycling as an independent activity- the individual fuelling him or herself? Or do you think cycling is more about community?
You seem to have started your own community of cyclists and travelers with your webpage. I loved the symbolism which you attached to your bicycle wedding bicycles/tandem)
The interesting thing about bicycling is that it is very adaptable. Bicycling can be an individual recreation, part of a fitness program, social group activity, competitive sport, and practical transportation. Everyone sees a bicycle a little differently but very few think of it negatively.
We are completely surprised with the explosion of traffic to our website (www.DownTheRoad.org), you are correct that the size and momentum of our website has brought together a like minded group of international travelers and cyclists. Creating this community was never our intention but has turned out to be a lot of fun and a welcome aspect of our journey. I can not imagine what shape or direction this online community will take in the future. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.
6. You say that the hardest part of your journey was "pedaling out of the driveway". Does that mean that it will be easy to cycle back into it? Do you think you will be prepared to return in the future? What are your vague plans? To cycle for as long as possible- or to return eventually? What would be the one thing pulling you back home?
If we chose to quit traveling I do not think it would be difficult to return home. Reintegrating into American society and culture would only take a few weeks. Even though we have been on the road for years we still have a lifetime of familiarity with living in America to fall back on. Going back to a regular job would be the difficult part of this scenario and we are doing what we can to avoid this. I do not think I could do the 9 to 5 thing again.
Our plans are always changing but we do not expect to go home, for more than a visit, for at least twenty years. After that who knows. Even though our first book is titled “The Road That Has No End: How We Traded Our Ordinary Lives for a Global Bicycle Touring Adventure” the day will come when age or just tiredness pushes us in another direction. The future is completely open for us. This is the freest I have ever been and it is unthinkable to give it up right now. The only thing to pull us permanently home in the near future would be injury or sickness.
7. What is the best thing about cycling?
I like how cycling is international. No matter what country we are visiting everyone understands the basic concept of a bicycle. Internationally cycling is seen as a tool to achieve work, transportation, freedom, and fun. Cycling is often the only common experience we have with the locals when we do not speak their language or understand their customs. Cycling has the power to bring together people from very different backgrounds. This is sometimes called, “the international brotherhood of cyclist”.
I have used several brands of bicycle panniers and
highly recommend Ortlieb.
See Why I switched to Ortlieb waterproof Panniers?
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