The first trip was to discover the meaning of life and the secret of happiness. This trip is for living it.
What is your next adventure?
You’re looking at it. I’m circumnavigating the US on a bicycle to promote my book. I’m also having an incredibly different kind of adventure re-creating myself, exploring self-actualization, meeting people, and being a businessman. Though sometimes I wish I were bicycling Alaska or China instead.
I’ve been so busy getting ready that I haven’t even had time to update people on the planning.
One friend asked: “How do you feel?”
An interesting question, as opposed to the frequent: “Why?”. As usual, I have mixed emotions. I didn’t really think I’d get back on a bike so soon, especially in America. I was dreaming that if I didn’t settle down, I would have hitchhiked Asia or something like that. Part of me is excited to have an adventure and challenge myself. (I am sick of sitting in my house writing about adventure.) I view this as an opportunity to get over the last dregs of my ego-importance and angst and really live my life. It’s time to stop searching for an answer and create an answer. At the same time, I get to spread a great message and build a community. Maybe not quite the localized community I thought I would be creating at this stage of my life. Then there is the other half of me that is pretty dang scared. I’m not entirely confident this is the most logical answer to marketing a book and I feel as I’m gambling literally everything I have on a publicity stunt. I really dislike marketing and hundreds of emails and phone calls that go AWOL, so I hope the trip markets itself. All and all it will be much harder as I will have to coordinate publicity and carry the extra weight of books and camcorder, camera, cell phone, computer, iPod and a dozen cords…. I have conservatively estimated 1.5 times the weight, and it could easily double the weight depending on various factors. I got a B.O.B trailer in addition to panniers. Just the trailer is an extra 13.5 pounds plus spare parts. Well, the trip isn’t about me or the bike or miles. So, maybe I will just half my mileage. Basically, I don’t know what I’m doing and making it up as I go along. But that’s life, eh?
My bike, Yerba Mate, is quite famous. It has been requested to appear on TV numerous times, featured in newspaper articles (without me), been photographed 1000’s of times and Yerba has even won a place on a the race podium without having to win the race.
One of the most popular questions asked these days: Is that the same bike? (The most popular question regarding my bike used to be: How many flat tires do you get? Or, Doesn’t your butt hurt?) It reminds me of a joke: I’ve had this axe my entire life. I’ve only replaced the handle 3 times and the head twice. Everything on my bike has been replaced but the frame, handlebars, cranks and surprisingly the aluminum rear rack. But those are almost ready to go. The frame is more or less okay, except for some potential corrosion, but if that gets replaced, will it still be the same bike? What about my body? Is that the same body I had when I started the trip?
So far this bike has about 33,000 miles and it’s still going. It’s a Gunnar mountain bike with a steel frame and components customized for heavy touring on the road. I have a peculiar love for my bike as if it were a real person. In fact, I think it has a life of its own. It’s enormously popular. Everywhere I go people want me to bring my bike. They ooh and aah and run their hands down the frames, caressing the nicks and scratches.
Recently it was rebuilt courtesy of Shelley and Forrest Smith. If being a bike mechanic is not an art form, it is certainly beautiful to watch a talented bike mechanic strip down a bike and rebuild it bolt by bolt and spoke by spoke.
You can view the slideshow below with some interesting descriptions of each slide. Among other things, you’ll see the box of worn out parts. It’s amazing the wear and tear a bike goes through. By brute determination and sheer human power, I’ve worn down steel, cracked aluminum, snapped titanium, and rubbed my handlebars smooth as glass with my hands, I feel like I left a trail of metal dust around the world.
Thanks to Forrest my steel horse has never been better. I think he must dirt from over 50 countries on the floor of his workshop. (PS. Forrest, save the dirt; and can you build a pare of spare knees?)
What touring bicycle do you recommend?
The latest and greatest racing gadget mindframe is antithetical to touring. You want a bike that’s more like a trusty workhorse.
My bike was made by Waterford Precision Cycles in Wisconsin. (I’m hoping that they’ll be able to make me a stainless steel bike next time.) Yerba and I got a personal tour of the factory and met the owner, Richard Schwinn, and the man who made my bike. He said, “Don’t get me wrong, this is a great bike, but you shouldn’t have been able to do what you did.” I replied: “So, I’ve heard….”
The key factor for me in deciding which bike to purchase was a combination of strength, longevity and riding position, thus the mountain bike with an more relaxed handle bar position. Touring is not a race. I have ridden a Trek touring bike and did not like being in that cramped position with drop bars. A essential factor was riding a steel bike, just in case it somehow got damaged any welder would be able to fix it. I also prefer the feel of riding a steel bike.
I did miss some of the extra’s that touring bikes have to offer; for example, 3 water bottle mounts are essential. And the bike got a little wobbly if I carried too much weight. And it was very slow. But it could go and off roads without a problem, and there were times the roads were literally rivers. I can’t imagine using a touring bike with 700 cc wheels.
The braze-ons are another key factor. On most bikes the eyelets are just stuck on with some brass. Appearing like an “0″ sitting on a flat surface. They will eventually snap off. What you want is the dropout, where the wheels attach and they eyelets, to be all one piece of machine tooled metal. If not, make sure the braze-on uses a lot of brass filling in all the spaces, so that it looks more like a triangle (with a hole in the middle) sitting on a flat surface. And attached to all that you’ll want the best steel racks for your panniers.
I would absolutely get a frame geometry for 26″ wheels. I’d even use downhill mountain racing deep-dish, double-walled rims with at least 36 spokes. Get the strongest wheels possible. Trust me on that one.
Thanks to Colleen (a registered nurse) for some more questions that might make the chapter titles for the next book.
How often did you need to access real medical care (beyond the tribal “medicine man”), and what was the quality in comparison to the US?
There were relatively few times that I really needed medical attention.
1) Bolivia for acute intestinitis (salmonella poisoning). The doctor was trained in Germany and treated me on his day off immediately. I give him credit for an accurate diagnosis and prescribing an effective cure, however he tried extremely hard to frighten me about how serious my condition was and tried charging me over $500 dollars. I negotiated him down to $60 and was still over charged many times.
2) Costa Rica for a dislocated risk. Overall very good health care in San Jose. I think they even advertise health care vacations for anyone that wants to combine medical care or plastic surgery with a vacation and probably still have money left over.
3) Booster shots and dentist appointment in Belgium. Super fast, easy, affordable and friendly.
4) I sought medical attention in India numerous times for some extraordinarily painful boils on my shins and ankles. And once for dengue fever. Medical care was extremely poor in the villages and small cities. Doctors, if they really were doctors, often worked in a shack along side the road full of shelves with bottles like a medieval alchemist in a movie. Pharmacies in the cities were much more civilized. However, after my fourth trip I was diagnosising myself on the internet and prescribing my own medication. “No. That one didn’t really work. Why don’t try something different.” On the positive side, treatment was often free just due to my “celebrity” status.
5) Australia for a routine checkup, and again for irritable bowel syndrome, probably due to my salmonella poisoning, or parasites, or one too many cases of giardia, or maybe too many antibiotics. Health care was very speedy, friendly and affordable.
6) New Zealand for tendonitis in my knees. This was probably the best health care system I experienced. Free even to tourists (why let tourists infect the natives). Extremely no nonsense, accurate and friendly. I saw the sports doctor, got a diagnosis, prescription, recommendations and went to the physical therapist for more advice and a routine of excercises, all completed within 2 hours after just walking into the clinic I happened to bicycle past.
To summarize, I would rate the United States health care system below average as far as developed country goes and as far as what seems possible these days. Of course, if you have the money, you can get top notch care, but how many people have the money? I personally can’t afford health care anymore. All in all there seems to be too much greed on one side, and too much lack of responsibility on the other side, which makes a recipe for inconvenient, over-priced miracle cures which are probably toxic. But that’s just my humble opinion after having experienced my travels and working for a cancer researcher after my trip.
What was the longest you stayed in any one place, and why?
Melbourne, Australia for 6 weeks. Mainly I was lonely and needed a break. Also, I had some time to wait for the weather to improve before I went to New Zealand.
You wrote that your brother shipped a new bike/parts off to you– how often did you have supplies/ goodies from home shipped?
My family shipped me a new wheel, a new rear cog, and a new credit card. My friend Debbie also brought me some supplies. I restocked and rebuilt my bike everytime I entered a developed country.
How did your camera not get stolen or lost?
Always having to walk around with my camera, wallet and passport was a big pet peeve of mine. Unfortunately, the safe place was often by my side. My friend Dennis had 2 cameras stolen. Mine survived 3 years until it got wet. Certainly, I had people watching me like circling vultures, waiting for me to put my camera down so they could snatch it. However, for the most part, I found the world to be extremely safe, probably more safe than the average American city.