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Posted March 6th, 2013

Our recent photo contest to find a cover shot for the upcoming 2nd edition of the Bike Touring Survival Guide received an outstanding response: over 700 photos were entered!

With so many great photographs, it was very difficult to shortlist just 10 photos. We ended up picking 12 favourites. There were many superb photos beyond those shortlisted but, for various reasons, they weren’t quite suitable as cover shots.

The shortlisted photos will now be judged by two bike-touring photographers, Paul Jeurissen and Amaya Williams. The winning entry will be announced on Friday, March 15th.

Without further delay, here are the 12 shortlisted photos (in no particular order). Clicking on the photos will take you to the image on Flickr.

#1. Early Winter In China by Cyclingthe360.com
Early Winter in China

#2. On Tour In Chile by Garths On Tour
DSC_2668

#3. Iceland by Mattaos
Matts photos

#4.  Land of volcanoes, sandy paths and salty salars by Gerard Castellà
BTSG2013

#5. Back On The Road by Solidream
Back on the road

#6. Laguna Tuyaito, Paso Sico, Argentina by Piciclisti
Laguna Tuyaito, Paso Sico, Argentina,

#7. Cañon inesperado by Alvaro & Alicia
Cañon inesperado

#8. On the way to Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina by Ana Carolina Vivian
Somewhere on the way to Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina.

#9. Kluane lake, Yukon (on the Alaska Highway) by Lorelyruss
throughthestreetsofanywhere.wordpress.com

#10. Near Passu by Sloths On Wheels
Near Passu

#11. Descending From The Atlas Mountains by Leave Only Treadmarks
Descending From The Atlas Mountains - Morocco

#12. Magical road near Skuru by Vellowallah
P1000347

Posted February 20th, 2013

This picture was taken a few moments before we almost died.

The day we almost died

The day was March 21st, 2008. We were biking across Iran with our friend Bijan, on our way to the holy city of Mashhad. By 7am, we’d finished breakfast and packed our bicycles. We picked up the camera one last time, snapped a quick shot of our camping spot from the night before, and rolled our bikes onto the road.

On the face of it, the cycling conditions that day could hardly have been safer. The road stretched out straight ahead and far behind us. Visibility was excellent. There was a shoulder, and no traffic at that time of day.

We took the first pedal strokes. Up, down. Up, down. As we eased into our rhythm, Friedel contemplated crossing the road to take a photograph of Andrew passing by.

Then it happened. We heard the squealing of tires and saw a blur in our rearview mirrors. Bijan shouted something. A fraction of a second later a car flew by our left side at incredible speed. In front of our eyes it rose into the air, rolled a few times and landed upside down on the other side of the road.

Silence. Terrible silence. The kind of eerie calm that only happens in the face of tragedy. In all honesty, we aren’t sure if it was truly silent or if we were just in shock. We realised that someone had just died in front of us and we were mere seconds away from being part of that accident; another statistic on the roads.

Three people died that day. Three children were left without parents. We could so easily have been among them. If we’d been cycling in the other direction on the road, if the car had veered right instead of left, if Friedel had crossed the road to take a picture….

That night, we wrote in our journal:

By the end of today, we felt even more pleasure than usual in the simple things in life. We stopped to camp by an irrigation channel, dipping our toes in the cool water and being happy only because we’d lived to see another day. You just never know what tomorrow will bring.

The next morning we got up and carried on, cycling down some of Iran’s most beautiful roads.

the next morning we carried on

We continued on our world bike trip for another 18 months, crossing Asia, Australia and North America. We kept cycling because we realised that turning tail and heading home wouldn’t save us from an untimely death. Such events are simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully for us, on that day we were (just barely) in the “right place”.

Not so for Peter & Mary, who sadly died earlier this month on Thailand’s roads. Like our experience in 2008, however, their fate only encourages us further to continue doing the things we love, with the people we love. We’ll do our best to stay safe, of course, but ultimately we also realise that death is a fate that awaits us all and we don’t want our last moments to be the closing act that follows a lifetime spent on the sofa. As the famous quote goes:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’

So if you’ll excuse us, we have a cycling trip to plan….

Posted in Inspiration
Posted February 18th, 2013

Pete & MaryThe internet can do funny things sometimes, including making you feel very connected to people you’ve never met.

Pete and Mary were two such people for us. From the earliest days of their round-the-world bicycle ride we exchanged emails, chatted on Twitter and watched their videos. They even sent us photos and stories for the 2nd edition of our Bike Touring Survival Guide.

Was it any surprise then that we cried a few tears when we heard this news? Rest in peace, Pete & Mary.

Pete and Mary, RIP from Tom Waugh on Vimeo.

Posted February 10th, 2013

After a rocky start to our Cuban bike tour, we’re finally starting to enjoy ourselves. The cycling around the Viñales area is beautiful and it’s not hard to see why this is one of Cuba’s most popular tourist regions.

Touring near Vinales

The towering cliffs remind us a little of the limestone mountains in Laos. Thankfully the road condition is much better than the mud we had to plough through in 2008!

Mountains & Roads in Laos

Since we’re still waiting for Luke to complete his course of antibiotics, we decide to follow a few of the day trips from the Bicycling Cuba book. We load Luke in the trailer, play a bit of peek-a-boo with the sun shade and off we go.

Luke in the trailer

First we head for a local swimming hole. It’s Christmas Day and yet we have the whole place to ourselves.

Swimming Hole

On our way back, we cross paths with this cyclist. He’s taking a bicycle-load full of cabbage and spring onions to a local market and when we meet he’s actually pushing the bike up a steep hill. For Cubans this is fairly typical. They transport all kinds of things on bikes that seem terribly awkward and heavy to us.

Bok Choy seller and his delivery bicycle

The next day we ride 30km to the waterfront town of Puerto Esperanza. The name sounds lovely but in truth the town is a bit rough around the edges. We try to walk out on the pier but after just a few meters we’re stopped because the boards are literally falling apart around our feet. At least the view is nice!

Puerto Esperanza

Despite a lack of general charm, we do manage to find one very good thing in Puerto Esperanza: the Villa Dora guesthouse where we order lunch. Within half an hour a lobster dinner is laid out in front of us, complete with a salad and two beers on the side.

One of the best lobster dinners we had at Villa Dora in Puerto Esperanza

This turns out to be one of the best meals in all of Cuba. Instead of the tough meat or overcooked fish that we’re normally served, this lobster is tender and delicious. It even comes with a sauce! Sauces of any kind are a novelty in Cuba and we even though our meal turns out to be fairly expensive (24 CUC or  €17) we decide it’s worth every penny.

We complement the chef on her cooking skills and she bluntly declares:

It’s good because I know how to cook, and most people in Cuba don’t. They overcook everything.

We would have to agree. Time and time again during our month in Cuba, we were disappointed by the food. Aside from the breakfasts, which are overflowing with fresh fruit, eggs and bread, we soon tire of rice, beans, more rice, more beans and mountains of tough, dry meat.

Ugh.

Thankfully we manage to find relief from the Cuban street restaurants. They’re rarely open in the evenings (except in the biggest cities) but during the day we can feast on things like street pizza, available everywhere and freshly cooked for just pennies.

Street Pizza (we consumed hundreds of these in Cuba)

We also stop frequently at small fruit and vegetable stands by the side of the road, where we can buy cucumbers, tomatoes, pineapples and bananas. They’re grown in organic gardens all over Cuba. Our Swiss army knife comes in very handy to carve up all our market purchases.

Vegetable seller (pineapples cost about 10 cents)

For snacks while cycling, we can find a good selection of cookies in the small corner shops.

cookies

And finally, we occasionally stumble across a tasty plate of spaghetti.

Cuban spaghetti

It’s food like this that will keep us going as we throw our bikes on a bus to the city of Cienfuegos, where we’ll cycle 500km around Central Cuba.

*This is the second in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. Click here for the first entry. More coming soon!

Posted February 6th, 2013

Aaaaaaaahchooo!

It’s December 17th. We’re on a plane to Cuba and excited to cycle for a month around the island but there’s a problem: in addition to our bikes and bags, we’ve also managed to pack a winter flu bug from Europe. Friedel is sneezing and feeling sorry for herself. By the time we get settled in our Havana hotel, she’s lost her appetite and spends the next two days in a hazy, feverish sleep.

Luke thankfully takes little notice of germs or jetlag and instead focuses on countering the 30°C heat by splashing around in his personal, portable bathtub: an Ortlieb bicycle pannier.

Luke in the "bath"

By day three, Friedel has mostly recovered and declares that it’s time to escape the city so we load up our bikes, turn west and cycle out of Havana. The first few kilometers are chaotic: blaring horns, clouds of black smoke from the cars and potholes all distract our attention. We never feel unsafe or threatened by the traffic but it’s also not what we would call pleasant cycling.

Once beyond the city limits, it’s a different story. The roads are nearly empty and there’s plenty of time to admire the stunningly blue water.

First day leaving Havana

It’s not just the colour of the water that’s intense in Cuba. The sun is also a force to be reckoned with. It’s been a long time since we were cycling in such a warm climate but we recover our old habits quickly enough.

The routine goes like this: Up at 6am to pack bags and shower. Breakfast at 7am. On the road before 8am. Cycle like mad until about 11am, by which point it’s time for a break in the shade. We stop frequently in the afternoon and this means that our progress is very slow but this isn’t a concern for us. We’re in no hurry and roadside rest stops are also a chance to play with Luke.

Just outside of Mariel

As usual, we’re amazed by this little boy of ours. The common ‘wisdom’ seems to be that travel and kids are incompatible but our experience has been just the opposite. Is everyone else misguided? Are we just lucky? We’ll probably never know but we can genuinely say that travelling with Luke is no harder than staying at home.

In fact, travelling with Luke is even better than being home because we can both focus on his needs. We are not distracted by work, household chores or the internet. For his part, Luke shows his natural travelling genes by adjusting remarkably well to every new situation, food and experience that we throw at him.

Everything, that is, except the germs. A mere 100km out of Havana and it becomes clear that Friedel passed her illness to Luke. He starts crying for no apparent reason. We feed him, change him and play with him but to no avail. We know something is wrong so we make a beeline for the nearest B&B. That’s how we end up at Villa Juanita, just outside the tiny tourist village of Las Terrazas. It’s on the main road but there’s little around for entertainment aside from the ‘farmer’s market’ that rolls in by horse and cart once every couple of days.

Farmer's Market

We end up spending three days at Villa Juanita, nursing Luke back to health. While we’re there, we play countless games of Scrabble and test out the famous Cuban medical system. The doctor doesn’t speak much English but does give us medication to bring down Luke’s fever and enough antibiotics, painkillers and vitamins to fill an entire pannier. The cost? Free. Even the taxi driver didn’t want to charge us for the journey into town and back.

Finally, we’re ready to move on but Luke has a course of antibiotics to take and they have to be kept refrigerated. This means we can’t cycle from town to town – at least not for a few days. Instead we take a taxi to the provincial city of Pinar del Rio, get a room in a casa particular (a type of Cuban B&B) and go exploring.

We end up at a baseball game: Pinar del Rio versus Matanzas. The tickets to a national league match are 4 cents each (1 Cuban peso). Without a zoom lens, our camera doesn’t do a good job of capturing the game but we do grab this shot of kids in the stands.

Baseball Game

Note the tobacco leaf in the logo of the baseball team. Tobacco is an important crop in this area, as we see the next day when we cycle the 30km or so to Viñales. The broad leaves of tobacco plants are sticking up everywhere from the bright red soil.

Tobacco

The other thing we soon notice are revolutionary billboards, often with images of Che Guevara. We stop to pose by the first one, but soon become immune to them as there’s literally one (and often several) in every town.

Eight days, one taxi ride, 130km of cycling and several vials of antibiotics later we arrive in Viñales. The views are inspiring. It seems the perfect place to park ourselves for another few days to celebrate Christmas, allow Luke to finish taking his medicine and try to get our bike tour back on track.

*This is the first in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. Click here for Part II. More coming soon!