Posted by: andrewedwardmorgan | September 23, 2009

Examiner Interview

getting ready to start the climb from the bottom of Chicamocha Canyon

me, more blue

Above:  Stefan and I take a break before starting the long climb out of Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia.  Me in front of one of the colorful balconies in Villa de Leyva, Colombia.

Nancy Vogel, mother and cyclist of Familyonbikes.org fame (she’s cycling with her two young sons and husband from Alaska to Argentina on a multi-year trip), recently interviewed me via email for an article that she’s writing for Examiner.com.  Below is a copy of the questions and answers we exchanged.  For those of you not interested in cycling, be forewarned:   The interview is mostly about bike-related stuff!

Here’s an excerpt from the interview (which, along with lots of other interviews with bike travelers, can be found here):

Nancy: Any special tips or advice to wannabe tourers?

Andrew: Jump.

Don’t get caught up on gear worries and route worries. Don’t fret about running out of cash—bike travel is incredibly cheap. Save up enough to travel on a $5–10 US per person per day budget, read some blogs, train for a few weeks, and leave. Just go! Sort things out on the road. Bring zip-ties. Bring camping equipment so you give yourself more options. Travel with an objective in mind—have a purpose for your trip. Don’t mess around with cheap wheels and tires—have a bike shop make some wheels for you with Sun Rhyno Lite rims. (I’m still waiting for my first broken spoke!) Use Schwalbe Marathon XR tires. Talk to people. Make yourself vulnerable. Get lost. Camp behind police stations, in firehouses, and in farmers’ fields. Try the street food. Journal. Embark on your trip as a hungry learner, as someone lusting for information. With this mindset, you’ll radiate a certain type of energy that will protect you throughout your travels. Don’t wait until Costa Rica to use your little chain ring on climbs—despite what you might think, it’s not worth saving an entire cog for the Andes! Even little climbs deserve low gears! With that said, push the bike when cycling is impossible—don’t be ashamed to get out of the saddle and walk. Contact other cyclists before you set out on your ride to ask questions. (My email is andrewedwardmorgan@gmail.com—ask away!) Use maps and advice from locals to figure out your route as you ride. Go to Bolivia if you want to ride through the best scenery in South America. Stay present—don’t fantasize about pizzas you’re going to have with friends in the future or pizzas you’ve had with them in the past. Stay focused on your pedal strokes, on the wind, on the sun on your face, on the llamas crossing the road. Don’t quit before you’ve cycled for two weeks—it takes this much time to break yourself into the cycling routine.

Go!

*****

Nancy:  Would you please explain a tad bit about where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Andrew: I cycled from New Jersey, USA to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Along the way, I stopped every three or four months to volunteer to teach English for four or five weeks.  I stopped at four schools throughout the ride—schools in Costa Rica, Peru, and Chile.  As I taught on the road, I worked with four schools in the United States on projects that linked our students together.  After a serendipitous meeting in Cusco, Peru, I accepted a job with an educational non-profit organization called Invisible Children operating out of Gulu, Uganda.  I flew here with the bike seven months ago.  After my contract ends next year, I’ll cycle from here up to Cairo, Egypt, my final destination on the trip.

N:  How long have you been/were you on the road?

A: It took 16 months to make it down to Buenos Aires.  Looking back on those months, though, it feels like it was a period of only five or six months.

N: What prompted such an extended journey?  Had you done a lot of touring before?

A: I wasn’t a cyclist before I started the trip.  I was teaching English out in Japan in 2005, and there I met a guy who spent a year cycling the length of the Silk Road.  I, at the time, thought he was crazy for doing what he had done.  He talked and talked and talked, however, about how great cycle travel is.  When we parted ways, he gave me a few websites to check out.

I spent the next few months reading about bicycle travelers.  I couldn’t read enough; every website fueled my curiosity.  One night in my apartment, after reading about yet another cyclist who had an incredible trip in some distant locale, I decided that the multi-year trip that I had been planning (the trip I had assumed would be made via buses and trains) was going to be done by bicycle.  It was an exciting moment.  I soon started researching bike parts, watching YouTube videos to learn how to change flat tires, and planning my route.

N: I know there are plenty of wonderful days when the sun is shining and you’ve got the wind at your back.  But there are also days when it’s raining or you face a headwind or you’re climbing a hill that just won’t end.  How do you get through those days?  What keeps you going?

A: On these days, I dig deep inside myself for strength.  I stop the bike, take a few deep breaths, and tell myself that this is one of those moments that requires tapping the shadowy reserves of confidence and drive that we all have inside of us.  After more than 10,000 miles, I can say that I’ve had to think and cycle like this only five or six times.  Pushing through these moments from time to time conditions you to better push through them in the future.  I’ve found, through my own experiences and talking to other cyclists, that our bodies can handle almost anything we throw at them while in the saddle.  Our minds, however, have the power to rattle everything and break us to bits.  If you can’t still your mind and stay present during the tough moments, you’ll convince your body that you can’t go on.  Learning to think—to stay present and positive—is the key to learning to push on.

N: As hard as it is to pick out one or two highlights – would you, could you?   Tell us about a couple of those incredibly wow-ing, drop-your-jaw experiences you’ve had.

A: Coming down out of the Ecuadorian Andes, I had a 75–mile downhill ride with one of my close friends from university.  In the middle of his one month cycling trip in Ecuador, my good friend Mikey rode with me on the greatest downhill both of us have ever experienced.  We passed through dense, cold cloud banks, wet rain forests, and tropical banana plantations.  We started the day with gloves and hats, and we ended it sweating in our t-shirts.

Another memorable day was had in the Chile’s Atacama Desert.  With the strongest tailwind of my life, amidst an arid landscape painted with the deep sandy oranges and reds for which the Atacama is known, I maintained 45 m.p.h. for almost 20 minutes on flat ground.   I was carrying enough food for a few days and about five liters of water.  Fully loaded.  Flying.  It was spectacular!

Perhaps the most memorable days, though, were the ones in which I was able to connect with folks along my route.  The realization that people around the world are good, that people are just like you and I, was the most phenomenal gift the trip gave me.

N: What about those days you wish you could forget (but you know you never will)?  Those days when everything goes wrong and then even more goes wrong?  Tell us about a couple of those.

A: I was robbed in Costa Rica.  And then again in Ecuador.  And then again in Chile.  By the third robbery, after I had gotten good at getting robbed (in terms of the way you need to think afterwards to move on), I was able to put the incident behind me quickly.  I was able to remember that one or two thieves shouldn’t be able to start me questioning the integrity of my fellow man, of all the people who opened their homes and their tables to me along my route.  So even though these days were bad, they taught me valuable lessons and helped me grow as a traveler and as a person.

Once while in Guatemala, I went from feeling normal to feeling absolutely horrible in the span of a few seconds.  Thrust into a fit of convulsive vomiting, I ran into a public bathroom and buried my head in a toilet bowl.  As I was getting sick, a janitor kept mopping the floor behind me.  With no door on the stall I was in, the janitor’s mop kept sloshing into the backs of my feet.  No privacy.  No relief in sight.  No friends or family close by.  Sick and alone in a ramshackle bathroom in a foreign country was no fun.

N: You’ve toured through many countries and I know they each are unique and have their advantages and disadvantages.  But, if you were to talk with someone relatively new to cycle touring, where would you recommend they go?  Why?

A: Colombia.  Hands down.  It’s a beautiful and easy place to cycle.  There are some big climbs depending on what route you take, but it’s an amazing place to ride.  Next to soccer, cycling is the most popular sport (so locals are always curious about your bike and your trip).  Because tourism is relatively new in the country as a result of the government’s past battles with the FARC, people you meet by the roadside greet you as a friend.  The food is delicious and cheap.  The roads are good.  The Spanish is clear and easy to understand.  The architecture in places like Cartagena is out of this world.  It’s just a perfect place to ride.

Argentina comes in as a close runner up.  There is free camping in public parks in even the smallest towns.  Public pools and barbeque pits are everywhere.  The people are as friendly as Colombians.  The roads are great.  The supermarkets are well–stocked.  It’s a very easy, cyclist–friendly place to ride.

N: Any special tips or advice to wannabe tourers?

A: Jump.

Don’t get caught up on gear worries and route worries. Don’t fret about running out of cash—bike travel is incredibly cheap. Save up enough to travel on a $5–10 US per day per person budget, read some blogs, train for a few weeks, and leave. Just go! Sort things out on the road. Bring zip-ties. Bring camping equipment so you give yourself more options. Travel with an objective in mind. Have a purpose for your trip. Don’t mess around with cheap wheels and tires—have a bike shop make some wheels for you with Sun Rhyno Lite rims. (I’m still waiting for my first broken spoke!) Use Schwalbe Marathon XR tires. Talk to people. Make yourself vulnerable. Get lost. Camp behind police stations, in firehouses, and in farmers’ fields. Try the street food. Journal. Embark on your trip as a hungry learner, as someone lusting for information. With this mindset, you’ll radiate a certain type of energy that will protect you throughout your travels. Don’t wait until Costa Rica to use your little chain ring on climbs—despite what you might think, it’s not worth saving an entire cog for the Andean climbs! Even little climbs deserve low gears! With that said, push the bike when cycling is impossible—don’t be ashamed to get out of the saddle and walk. Contact other cyclists before you set out on your ride to ask questions. (My email is andrewedwardmorgan@gmail.com—ask away!) Use maps and advice from locals to figure out your route as you ride. Go to Bolivia if you want to ride through the best scenery in South America. Stay present—don’t fantasize about pizzas you’re going to have with friends in the future or pizzas you’ve had with them in the past. Stay focused on your pedal strokes, on the wind, on the sun on your face, on the llamas crossing the road. Don’t quit before you’ve cycled for two weeks—it takes this much time to break yourself into the cycling routine.

Go!

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Responses

  1. Hi Andrew,
    just discovered you and your blog via the Examiner Interview. Your advice on staying in the present moment is applicable to any travel experience (or life in general!) So thanks!
    Also, you mention how you’ve connected US schools with international schools where you’ve taught – I’m assuming most of these schools don’t have much funding to work with and might be looking for new tools to help connect students and teachers-I think findingEducation could help them – it’s a new online tool that lets teachers and students share their favorite Web sites and post assignments, creating a vibrant community that combines the best of the Web with insights from teachers and students. Here’s a link:

    http://findingeducation.com/

    Hope you’ll check it out, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
    Thanks again.
    S.

  2. Once again, well said. Because of you and your blog, I jumped. My South American tour has been more incredible than I could have imagined. Thank you once again for the inspiration and advice. I didn’t know you were still biking up to Egypt. I’ll be following your travels. P.S. – Yes, my site looks almost a clone to yours—it was by far the best WordPress theme. I guess we both just have good taste. Take care.


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