25 Countries & Counting: Tales From My Steel Steed
On November 3, 2019, I set off for a day of riding sweep duty. Leaving Kratie, Cambodia we were headed 125 kilometres south to the city of Kampong Cham. Now working my third TDA tour, the Bamboo Road, sweeping has become a favourite job of mine. Across East and West Africa and now through Southeast Asia, no day is ever quite the same – though I seem to have gotten into a good rhythm as the slowest rider of every tour. As soon as I started pedalling, admiring the new country I was in, it dawned on me: my bike Isabella and I have cycled in 25 countries together… and counting.
When I was 20 years old, I called my parents and told them that I would be riding my bike from Seattle to San Francisco that summer. Besides their immediate questions concerning my safety, motivation and ability to do such a thing, they were wondering what kind of bike I would ride. I didn’t actually own a bike – which would be the first hurdle in riding the Pacific Coast Highway. Despite their lingering concerns, they gave me my first touring bike for my 21st birthday. She was sleek and fast (enough), and would successfully carry me over 1,600 kilometres from my home to the infamous Golden Gate Bridge.
Fast forward 5 years and nearly 20,000 kilometres. My bike hasn’t just been a way to exercise or the way I commute, it has been my dearest traveling companion. In the last two years alone, we have faced the sand swept winds of the Sahara Desert in Egypt and Sudan, and then again in Mauritania. I have pushed my bike, caked in red mud, through the back roads of Tanzania and Guinea. We have climbed thousands of metres together in Morocco, Ethiopia, Namibia, and China. From the typhoons of Taiwan to the speed bumps of Ivory Coast, Isabella has been the steel support under my wings.
Although it isn’t exactly the bike I had named when I first got her (new chain, wheels, drive train, derailleur, brakes, etc.), I’ve learned that’s not really what matters. The time I have spent atop my well worn leather saddle has been some of the best of my life. The countless hours riding alone through the wide open desert or the densely variegated jungle have allowed me the time and space to think about my problems, and to come up with solutions. I’ve been able to reflect on poetry and books I’ve read, and remember conversations I’ve had and what they meant to me.
It has also given me the space to challenge myself, to surprise myself, and most importantly, to fail. Your bicycle can be your best friend or your worst enemy but until you realize that what you are doing and where you are going, it has nothing to do with your bicycle, but with your own internal desire to go somewhere and do something. I ride my bike because it is time best spent with myself. On a good day – the rhythm, the intensity, and the quiet hum are soothing reminders of my connection to my surroundings and the piece of metal that carries me across these continents. On a bad day – the inconsistency, the effort, the shake of corrugated ruts are there to teach me patience with myself and the world around me.
The places I have gotten to ride with TDA have wildly exceeded my expectations – the people I have met, the hills I have been able to climb, and the way in which I have learned to perceive the world around me. If you’ve never cycled in completely adverse conditions (including but not limited to heat, wind, mountains, typhoons, etc.), I’d recommend you grab a bike, any bike, and give it a go. Fair warning though: you’re going to learn a lot about this beautiful planet and even more about yourself.