The weather doesn’t exactly inspire dreams of cycling. Thankfully, my book does.
I am sitting on my balcony and looking out into a dense night fog. It is rainy season here in southern China and much of the days and nights are shrouded in the velvet mists that linger on after the rains have come and gone.
Rainy season is a time when things seem to never dry, and if they do manage to dry, it seems to take forever. Laundry can hang outside under shelter for days and still be damp. The ceramic tile in the bathroom always has a sheen of moisture clinging to its cold smooth face. The mirror, steamed by the shower and still glazed hours later, fares little better. Every piece of cardboard and paper in the apartment, from the cereal box in the cupboard, to the book I am currently reading, The Revenge of Geography, has become soft and even soggy from the ravages of moisture. It is a land where rot grows and prospers like rats during plague.
I know what you might be thinking. The Revenge of Geography? Yep, that’s what I am reading. It is written by Robert D. Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a contributing editor at The Atlantic magazine. It is a book that demonstrates how geography has throughout history helped shape and determine the rise and fall of empires. It goes further to propose that even today, when many historical geographic impediments and barriers can be overcome by technology, temporarily at least if not permanently, geography still has a say in the determination of nation states, greatly influencing decisions of foreign policy and international economic strategy.
I can imagine how uninteresting this must seem to many of you, but to me it is a wonderfully lively and engaging read. Then again, I have been a geography nut since I was but a young boy in primary school when I got my hands on an old Oxford Canadian School Atlas left at my house by my mother’s brother Eric who was still in high school. My love of geography is what has driven my life of travel. It combines so well with my love of cycling and that is without question my favorite way to see the world.
It is taking me a long time to get through this book mostly because I keep pulling out a map and looking at all the places mentioned in the book and being swept away like I was by the maps of my childhood and youth. The central Asian Steppes, Iranian plateau, the Mediterranean world of southern Europe, North Africa, and the Levant, and a host of other places that give rise to thoughts of amazing places that I have yet to see but for whom my desire has not waned since childhood. If anything, driven by the success of recent travels, that desire has increased.
So, after having said all that, I want to present to you, in no particular order, a short list of my dream bike trips.
Iceland is an adventure cycling and photography dream come true. Whether it’s the majestic falls and canyon at Gullfoss, the dreamy Blue Lagoon hot spring and spa, or Vatnajokull National Park, a glacier whose name seems to command the old Norse gods themselves, amazement abounds in every corner of the country. And with Route 1, or the Ring Road, circling the entire island it is perfect for a summer of touring and camping. There are plenty of official campsites to take refuge in and many unofficial ones also. The high northerly latitude makes for long days with daylight stretching late into the evenings which means lots of hours in a day to make some mileage cycling. My heart skips a beat just thinking about it. I wish I could go right now!
I was fortunate last summer to ride a small part of the Silk Road in northwestern China. Rather than slake my appetite for this dream ride, it only served to drive me crazy with thirst.
The Silk Road was not one road but many. It was a network of trade routes that were central to the economic and cultural exchange at all stops between the Asian far East and the Mediterranean. It is upon these routes that Marco Polo travelled from his Italian home across central Asia to the courts of the Khan in China. In fact, Marco Polo once visited my small Chinese home city of Jianou. A statue of him stands proudly in a park only a short walk from my apartment. Just one more thing to drive that wanderlust of mine into overdrive.
My preferred route along the Silk Road would be the one that starts in Istanbul, Turkey. From there it would be a ride across the country exiting it in the east into Iran. From Iran, my route would take me northeast through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and into Tajikistan. In Tajikistan, I would continue the route along the Pamir Highway which would take me into Kyrgyzstan. The Pamir Highway is considered by many travelers to be the last real wild frontier and is considered the Holy Grail of cycling adventures.
In Kyrgyzstan, I would cross the border into China near the ancient city of Kashgar. From there it would be a sweeping, gently arching ride to the northeast through the Taklamakan Desert before the arch turns over and plunges like a blade through the heart of China eventually arriving at the sea in the southeast.
What an epic adventure this trip would be. I only hope some day that I can place my tires on this route and see the many amazing places along its breadth. It gives me cold shivers just thinking about it.
I happen to believe that I am from one of the greatest countries in the world. It’s beauty and people are unmatched anywhere, so how could a west to east ride across my home not be on this list.
The preferred way to ride this mammoth country is west to east, due to the prevailing winds of summer . What better way to begin than by riding through beautiful British Colombia with the majestic Rockies providing highlight after highlight. From here it is a whip across the Prairies, the breadbasket of Canada. The journey would then cut through the Canadian shield in northern Ontario, down into Quebec, and into the Maritimes. From there it is a ferry crossing to my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. What better way to end an incredible journey than arriving at your home town. I can’t think of one.
Namib Desert, Namibia
The Namib Desert in south western Africa is one of the most sere and unforgiving places on the face of the earth. It is the oldest desert in the world and a place of much incredible beauty and a dream adventure cycling route.
Whether it is the Gondwana Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world, Namib Naukluft Park where the red dunes of Sossusvlei push right to the oceans edge along the infamous Skeleton Coast, or the chance to safari in Etosha National Park and see lions, rhinos, leopards, and elephants, there are many things to arouse great excitement. Man, I am never going to sleep tonight!
North to South: A Cycling Odyssey
Simply put, this would be a 30,000 kilometer multi year journey that would start at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, and conclude in Ushuaia, Argentina overlooking the Magellan Straight. It would pass through at least 12 countries and provide such beautiful views that I can scare imagine, or hold my heart in my chest when I think of it. Taking on a route of such enormity is an intimidating prospect, but what stories would the traveler have after such a journey as this.
I love Vietnam. It may be my favorite place in the whole world. I have visited twice and on the second trip, I spent 10 days cycling through the central region. That 10 days ranks as one of my favorite trips. There are several stories on the website about that trip such as the one about riding what I call “The Hello Highway.” http://pierretrowbridge.com/riding-the-hello-highway-1051-2/
But there is so much more to see in Vietnam. I would cherish the opportunity to ride along the Mekong Delta, or the terraces of Sapa and meet the people there and capture their lives in photos. I also have an interest in more obscure places like Dien Bien Phu which is where the demise of French Colonial control of the country began in stunning and demoralizing fashion. Then, there are great natural wonders such as the Caves at Pha Nong-Ke Bang or the great sand dunes at Mui Ne, and Halong Bay. And of course, my beloved Danang that I love so dearly.
So, that would be my top 6 dream cycling trips. There are many, many more rides that I could think of that would stoke the fires of my imagination as these do. If you ask me again in a month or so, the list will probably be different. So, honorable mention must go to New Zealand’s South Island, Morocco, cycling a classic Tour de France route, South East Asia, the Karakoram Highway, and a route that would follow the development of Christianity from it’s earliest days in Palestine to the extremity of its reach in western Europe (In addition to a geography nerd, I am also a religious studies nerd, having majored in the discipline at university.)
Wait a minute. How is cycling New Zealand not in the top 6? Hmm. I will have to get back to you. Until next time.