Distant dreams - CycleBlaze

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Distant dreams

Leo Woodland

We have a bike path near us that runs from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. That's the width of France.

Alongside this canal is a bike path, wide and smooth for much of its way. It is therefore an attraction for a few days' easy riding and, especially, for tour parties on their standard bikes loaded with just enough luggage for a succession of hotels.

The man I met the other day didn't look as though he was with one of these groups. If he looked like anything, it was a prisoner on the run.

"Going far?", I asked.

I expected him to say Bordeaux, the end of the path.

Instead, he swallowed the rest of his sandwich and said: "Norway."

Norway isn't at the end of the bike path. It's at the end of the continent.

I met a Norwegian once who was coming the other way, as I supposed you'd have to from Norway. He was riding round the world, he said. He had been on the road for weeks and still hadn't left Scandinavia. I met him in Denmark. I emailed for news but never received any. I suspect he turned back and went home.

I met a German so introverted that he gabbled "Don't know" when I asked where he was headed, and ran off.

Some, I'm sure, get to ride round the world. Whether they do or don't, they are fascinating just for having the idea in the first place. And I congratulate them for that, and for trying.

Who have you met on your travels whose eyes gleamed with distant dreams? And did you ever hear if they'd made it?

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5 months ago
Graham SmithTo Leo Woodland

Léo this is a very timely question. I immediately thought of cycle expeditioner Ian Wallis who has ridden his heavily laden  yellow Thorn Nomad  tens of thousands of kilometres. His extensive cycle tour history includes an extraordinary cycle tour from St John Street Cycles in Bridgwater Somerset to Singapore.

When I last saw Ian, he had a glint in his eye and was planning to cycle tour from his home in Canberra Australia to Singapore,  departing on 1 May with the aim of ‘finishing’ the ride from England to Canberra which ‘only’ took him as far as Singapore a few years ago.

I suggested to Ian that he journal his imminent ride here on CycleBlaze. Hopefully it will appear soon. 

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5 months ago
Gregory GarceauTo Leo Woodland

Every time I set out on a bike tour, MY eyes gleam with distant dreams.  Of course, distance is relative, and my distant dreams have thus far only extended to other parts of my own country.  Enough about me.  This topic is about other people we've met with distant dreams.

I did meet such a person on my first bike trip.  His distant dreams far exceeded my distant dream of riding from my hometown all the way to Duluth, Minnesota and back.  I wrote the story of that meet-up on one of my Cycleblaze journals, but I thought I'd share some of it for this forum discussion.

In my estimation, the dude was in his mid-twenties.  He was on only the second day of his bike tour.  By that time, I was on my fifth day of what I considered an adventurous 400 mile tour.  Feeling pretty smug, I asked him how far he was going.

As I recall, he said he was going to Minneapolis that night.  Then he added that his eventual destination was BRAZIL.  Man, that guy sure put me in my place.  At the time, I didn't think such a bike trip was even possible.  Also, at the time, I seriously doubted that he could get there on a 1970's era Schwinn bike with cat litter buckets attached where panniers should have been.

I didn't ask him to send me updates.  I never even asked his name.  I will never know whether he made it to Brazil or not but, now that I know crazier things than that have been accomplished by bike tourists with enough determination, I choose to believe he's sunning himself right now on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

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4 months ago
George HallTo Leo Woodland

Interesting question.  Since most all of my touring has been within the confines of the continental U.S., most of the other cyclists I have met have distance dreams about the far shore they are pursuing.  I met Tom, Cycle Tourist on the Western Express route - he was just out for his daily training ride, but he noted that he had traversed the U.S. 3 times in his youth and had also ridden across Australia.  That put a gleam in my eyes, because ever since I came of age as a young man I have felt that I was bound for Australia.  I've never made it, but maybe some day I will - journals I have read indicate that a cross-Australia tour would be much more difficult than rolling on the paved backroads of the U.S. - it may be too much for me, but one needs to dream. 

On the Transam route in particular, I met quite a few foreign tourists.  But crossing the U.S. on bicycle was their big distance dream as well, and it did put a glitter in their eyes when we talked about it.  And then there's This Dutch Couple I met on the Transam route - they had previously crossed the U.S. more or less following the Southern Tier route, and had returned to cross once again, this time on the Transam route - I think there are many foreign cyclists whose eye glitter comes from dreaming about a cross-U.S. ride.   

I read journals of folks traveling in Africa - a north-south cycle crossing of the continent would indeed be an incredible distance dream.  I don't think I'd be brave enough to frolic about self-supported and solo while camping in lion country, but maybe a supported trip?  Or perhaps a group of like-minded folks to add a bit of security to the expedition?  Oh well, such distance dreams are just that for me - dreams.  But dreams are the stuff that makes the wheels go round. 

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4 months ago
Leo WoodlandTo Gregory Garceau

Lovely story. Thanks!

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4 months ago
Mark BinghamTo Leo Woodland

I met Klaus Kuras, a German who was circumnavigating the globe, when I did the Southern Tier in 2008 (an adventure which, perhaps, someday I’ll post on CycleBlaze). He started at his hometown in Frankfurt and traveled East, and by the time we met he had been riding long enough so that his right panniers were faded, while his left ones retained their original color.

Prior to our chance encounter, he had just breezed through a desert which had just about killed me, although I suspect traversing the Gobi desert, passing the corpses of camels who had been unable to survive, had inured him to such trivialities as 110 F/43.3 C temperatures. 

Klaus had that gleam in his eyes, and it was from him that I learned the German word “fernweh.”  Although there’s no exact translation, most people say “wanderlust,” or a joyful lust for traveling. However, fernweh is more than that; it’s more tortured, an ache to travel. Think of the opposite of homesickness. That was Klaus and, I've also come to realize, is me. 

I had the good fortune of being able to travel with him for over a week, and we became lifelong friends. (He’s currently walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain)  He did complete his world tour, then four years later went on to ride from the northern tip of Alaska to the Southern tip of South America. Although he doesn’t journal he’s an excellent photographer, and documents his trips with pictures. Here’s his bicycling website, which lists all of his trips:  


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4 months ago
Victa CalvoTo Leo Woodland

Leo, thank you for the topic and Mark, thanks for newly minted addition to my ever diminishing vocabulary: fernweh.

Indulge me while I set up the background for my story. I first started my world travels in 1973, or maybe it was '72? My memory, much like my vocabulary, is also fading as I age. I left California, propelled by a deep, but almost unconscious desire to see the world. That fernweh, plus a growing despair for the direction the country of my birth was heading towards was my motivation to hop on a plane for overseas.

Originally, I was just going to check out New Zealand. It certainly looked very appealing in the travel brochures, and they had beautiful rivers and big trout. But by the time I left the travel agency, I had an around the world plane ticket. And still absolutely no idea, not a clue of what I was about to embark upon. I thought I would buy a touring bike in Auckland, kit it out and tour the country. In 1972-3 there were no touring bikes to be had anywhere in NZ .... 

Not to worry... within a few weeks of leaving San Francisco, I had met several young world travellers, cashed in the plane ticket and was off on the Hippy Trail across the globe. 

OK, that's the background set and it is now a couple of years later, about 1975 and my Australian girl friend (later my wife) and I are sitting at a large table full of fellow travellers in a Punjabi fish restaurant in Paharganj, New Delhi. This was pre-internet, so it was at places like this where you did your travel planning, listening to and asking questions of your fellow travellers. I think all of us were suffering from wanderlust, and some even from a good dose of fernweh. Opposite me was an angelic beautiful young boy with long blond hair. I thought he couldn't have been much older than 16, if that. He was quietly listening to everyone and was being ignored by everyone. I asked his name (which I can't recall) and where he had travelled from and what were his future travel plans. 

Within a minute or two the entire table was silent, listening in dumbstruck awe to his story. He wasn't much older than 16, having the year before graduated from high school. He had travelled from his hometown in middle America (sorry, but can't recall exactly where...), across all of Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, all of the Stans that were then open to western travel, into, around and back out of Ladhak and was now planning to continue his journey across the rest of the Hippy Trail. When he graduated high school his dad asked him what his plans were. He told him he wanted to travel around the world on his bicycle. His dad said something along the lines of, "yeah, I think we can make that happen," and was funding the entire journey. Mind you, it wouldn't have cost him much because his son was circumnavigating the planet on a bike and sleeping rough most of the time. Pedalling the planet solo, on a Schwinn Varsity 10 speed. 

I never saw him again, Leo. I don't know if he completed his journey, but that encounter still haunts my fernweh fevered dreams of travel.     

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4 months ago