By Jack Hawkins
Photos Pico Triano
Is a question that I'm often asked by friends whenever I talk to them about the weird (we're all a little strange, we enjoy riding bikes for dozens of miles a day!) and wonderful people that I'm meeting through bicycle touring. Recently, I've been meeting these people seemingly on a daily basis - twelve in the last two weeks! From those on short trips around the province (as was my encounter yesterday with two lovely people who I had breakfast with!) to those who have been around the world - people like Ed Wrigley, whose very well traveled indeed! He was on a tour from Oregon to Vancouver, across Canada then down to New York.
Often, I meet these people at places like Tim Hortons (it's everyone's favourite place in my small town!) I, too frequent it - they serve great French Vanilla latte's and their muffins are delectable. I'll often spot a touring bike parked outside as I'm pulling into the car park (it's like I have a special glasses-implanted radar for them) Racks? Check. Panniers? Check. General dis-organisation? Check. I'll go in and play 'Spot the Cyclist' - it's easy, really. They're either wearing a jersey, are typing furiously at a laptop or tablet, or are the most tired looking of everyone there!
I'll go up and say, "Hi, are you the cyclist?" And the conversation flows from there...We chat for a while mostly about their current tour, where they've been previously, where they're going next, distances-per-day food, budget - really anything I can think of to ask! They're always pleasant and, since this is a frequent thing for them, most cyclists are happy to answer my questions. Then we'll exchange email addresses, and I'll either ride out with them for a few kilometres, or bid them adieu with a handshake and "Happy trails!".
The internet, I must say, has made my job as a freelance writer one million times easier. I have met so many amazing and inspiring people because of it. Those that I don't meet in Tim Hortons, I've met online. People such as Shirine Taylor (of A Wandering Nomad), or Derek Boocock (of Derek's Bike Trip), or my crazy-insane-first-ever-interviewee, Iohan Gueorguiev (the Bike Wanderer). It's simply a case of me finding them, as was the case with Shirine and Iohan, or them seeking me out - in Derek's case. Although the number of people who tour by bicycle, as I've recently discovered is quite large - as one community, we're a minority. Remember, "Sometimes those who wander, really are lost".
But we all share a common goal, I think anyway - to see the world from the saddle. Or maybe it's simply the love of riding a bike, or perhaps just travel - who knows. What matters is that we are able to connect with one another, and that's the subject of this post - the interconnectivty of bicycle tourists, no matter how far apart we may be.
I gave a mention earlier to Iohan Gueorguiev, He's a Bulgarian man who was my first ever interviewee. I found out that Iohan was going to cycle half-way across Canada - from Hamilton, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia - IN THE WINTER. And I was ecstatic to see that his route would take him through my town of Richibucto. I had to meet this crazy guy on a bike! (How apt that I found him via a website of the same name!) I opened up the communicative channel - all thanks to GMail, and we conversed for about a month before we met on a cold February morning last year. Once again in (you guessed it), good ol' Tim Hortons. We had coffee and chatted about his insane journey, and then I wished him well and waved him on his way! 'This guy's going places' - I thought. And I was right, he's currently cycling to Argentina from Alaska!
But it isn't just through CGOAB that I've met and interviewed people. I've simply Google'd "bike tourists", and that's how I came across Shirine Taylor and was able to interview her via Skype. She, in a small guest house in Nepal, I - freezing my arse off in Richibucto, New Brunswick. That has since spawned an article, we're now friends on Facebook and I am inspired every day by her thoughtful, concise and engaging blog posts - she takes some fantastic pictures, too! Bicycle touring also has it's own Facebook group, and that has spawned a spin-off group called, "Bicycle Touring Websites" - which is a group that allows users to share posts from their sites and blogs, with the aim of increasing traffic to cyclists' blogs/websites, and once again - connecting people.
The internet is full of fantastic communities where cyclists gather - nay, flock to - in many cases. There's WarmShowers, CrazyGuyonaBike, the Facebook groups, Google Plus communities... The Twittersphere is ripe with everyone from recreational tourers to people who are doing rides for causes, to people doing fully-supported rides with bicycle touring organisations. The internet has provided me with the opportunity to meet up with and/or Skype with some of the most unique and interesting people. My most recent interviewee - Sophie Stirl, is a young woman from Germany, who is unicycling (yes, you read that right!) across Canada. The other week, I met a group of five riders who were on an end-of-University, last-hurrah, cross-country tour. I even got the opportunity to share a meal with them, and ride out with them the following morning. It was an amazing night - and not one that I'll forget! The conversation was exciting, interesting and variety was the spice of it! We exchanged email addresses and friendships on Facebook and I've made a promise to visit every one of them next year - all except one, who will be in California. :( I guess where I'm off to after crossing Canada!
But it isn’t just the Internet… Sometimes it’s just pure inquisitiveness on my part, and willingness to open up, on theirs. Remember those two cyclists that I shared breakfast with? Well, I met them at Jardine Park, a local municipal campground. That same campground in fact, that I met Paul Newman – a fellow Englishman and cyclist who had crossed Canada in the summer of 2012. I simply recognised the English accent and thought – ‘Aha! One of my people – I must go and speak with that fellow!’ We remain friends and in communication today. He’s the one who started my whole interest in riding my bike across Canada. And now, here we are...
It’s quite remarkable, really… How we are all connected, despite the distances between us – whether they be hundreds of miles or thousands of miles. All of us, connected either by the internet, or by pure human inquisitiveness. All for the love of riding a bike from one destination to the next, from one town to the next. From one country to the next. What drives us all? Personally, it’s the people that I meet, the places I'll go and the experiences I'll have.
Please share with me your experiences of meeting people! How has the internet played a role in how you connect with fellow cycle tourists? Leave a comment below, or reach out to me on Facebook, Twitter or G+ - I won't bite, honest!
As always, thanks for reading and happy trails! :)
About the Author
Jack Hawkins is a freelance travel writer and touring cyclist. Originally from the UK, he swapped one seaside town for another in 2006, and has been living in Canada for eight years. Jack has always had a fondness for writing and after graduating from Bonar Law Memorial High School in Rexton, Jack decided to pursue a freelance writing career, and implemented his love of cycling into his work shortly after a chance-meeting in 2013 with a fellow Englishman who had cycled across Canada.
Jack currently writes for this webzine, but is also a monthly contributor Mike's Bike Shop's E-Magazine, "The Rider's Edge". He recently worked on and published a series of thirty-one articles for revered bicycle touring guru, Darren Alff, for his website: http://gobicycletouring.com/. Jack also writes articles, journals, gear reviews, and interview pieces for his own website - http://jackonabike.ca/.