Thank you for inviting me to do an interview with you today, Jamie. Responses to a few of your questions are answered in more detail in my books "Partners in Grime" and "The Lead Goat Veered Off." Okay, let's get started.
1) In your books it's clear that you were taking part in a world tour by bicycle but no where does there seem to be a comprehensive list of the places that you visited during your journey. Where did you visit?
Canada and the US, of course.
In Europe we took the opportunity to cycle tour in all the western European countries, except for Finland (many North Americans think of Europe as small, but somewhat surprisingly I found, Finland is still quite a ways from its neighbours. Besides, we had to leave something for next time :-) We cycled France, Spain, Portugal, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy, San Marino, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Greece.
We also cycled Fiji; five months in New Zealand on their scenic North and South Islands; and three months in Australia from Sydney to the Snowy Mountains and then through the outback following the Oodnadatta Track to Ayers Rock and Alice Springs.
Cycle touring in Australia brought many special moments.
2) Prior to your world tour what was your bicycle touring background?
My first ever tour, which, supposedly as an incentive, Sharon let me plan the entire route myself, was an unmitigated disaster. It was a hellish trip from our home at that time in Edmonton, Alberta, to Jasper, Banff, Calgary, Drumheller and back to Edmonton. Sunburned, blistered, and walking with a limp, I was certain it was my first, only, and last bicycle trip.
But, to my chagrin, the next summer, Sharon planned another trip. A little jaunt to British Columbia's Gulf Islands. It involved great scenery, great weather, great bakeries, shorter distances, less traffic and a whole lot of island hopping. By the trip's conclusion, I was hooked. We've made many more Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands tours since. Living at the time in landlocked Alberta, the sea held a certain fascination for us.
We've done a few more Jasper - Banff jaunts. I think we've ridden that route seven times so far (and I've ran it three times in the Jasper - Banff relay race). Spectacular, spectacular country with a 10-foot wide paved shoulder and no truck traffic.
We've also done tours in Alberta's Kananaskis country. We've ridden over Highwood Pass there a couple of times -- the highest paved road in all of Canada. The downhill is not to be missed! Once, with cycle touring buddy, Vicky (whom you may remember meeting in Partners in Grime), we climbed to the top of the pass just so we could turn around and swoop back down. Vicky, a speed demon with an even more streamlined body than Sharon, hit over a hundred kilometres per hour on the downhill! I'm faster than she is on the uphills, though. :-)
One summer, we enjoyed a two-month cycle tour from Niagara Falls through the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes area, upper New York State, Vermont, and New Hampshire. We took a ferry from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and then cycled Canada's Atlantic provinces: Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, including the Cabot Trail, and then caught a ferry over to Newfoundland, and cycled up the west coast to Gros Morne National Park then to L'Anse aux Meadows, a World Heritage Viking settlement site, and finally back down to St. John's.
What got me thinking about the possibility of a world tour (Sharon had the dream long before I ever did) was our cross-country cycle tour of the United States. Sharon had been studying for the UFE, the Unified Formal Exam, to become a Chartered Accountant. The pass rate for that miserable exam is an ugly 50 per cent. Because Sharon was studying eight to twelve hours a day (no fooling) for the UFE, we weren't able to sneak away on a bike tour that summer. As an incentive, I suggested that if she passed, rather than spending the next summer re-studying, we would cycle across the States.
I'm happy to report that Sharon passed her UFE. We began making plans to ride across America. We joined the Adventure Cycling organization and ordered their complete bicentennial cross-country set of maps. I was in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Alberta at the time, so I had four months off. Sharon took a leave from where she was working at the accounting firm of Deloitte-Touche. So, when the university session ended in April, Vicky, whom we had cycle toured with on numerous past occasions, drove Sharon and me -- through a raging blizzard, no less -- from Edmonton to Vancouver, BC. Sharon and I set out from Vancouver, cycled through the San Juan Islands and down the coast of Washington and Oregon to the Redwoods in California. After a month, having not made much progress in an easterly direction, we turned around and headed north to connect with the Bike Centennial route. We then followed the route (with a few detours) across the USA. Four months after we began, with over 10,000 kilometres clocked on the old odometer, we found ourselves dipping our bike wheels in the Atlantic. Still not ready to stop at that point, we gazed across the Atlantic and wondered what it would be like to just keep on going....
Sharon dips her bike tire in the Atlantic at the end of another trans-continental bike ride.
3) On your Web site you have a very amusing and fascinating article that basically describes how you met your wife and a touring bicycle Christmas present that she gave you just before you became engaged to be married. Looking back at that time do you ever regret not embracing bicycle touring sooner then you ultimately did?
Uh, no. It's entirely my wife's fault that I got into the whole crazy world of bicycle touring ... and, believe me, it took a whole lot of convincing before I did so.
As you may know, Princeton, BC, is in the heart of some of the best terrain in Canada for cycle touring and mountain biking. But I never once imagined -- or even considered -- getting on one of those twiddle-your-legs-in-a-circle contraptions. Oh, sure, I had seen multitudes of touring cyclists ride past my front door on BC's Highway 3. Heck, I had even offered water to a couple of them. But, had I ever regarded doing such a thing myself? Nope. It sure didn't look like fun to me: torturous uphills, broiling in the sun, wind howling in one's face, at the complete mercy of the weather god's entire precipitation arsenal. It just didn't make any sense to me. Especially for fun! Why on earth would one do that when they had a car? :-)
After graduating from Princeton, I moved to Edmonton to make my fame and fortune. Meeting Sharon there proved to be my undoing. There I was, an affirmed petrol head, the proud owner of not one, but three cars. Sharon, meanwhile, didn't even own a car. She rode a bike everywhere and had completed a few fully loaded self-supported bicycle tours through Alberta, British Columbia, and Washington State.
So, there I was, happily living to polish my cars, when, somewhere offstage right, Miss Sharon was about to enter the scene. At the time, she was working on her Business and Commerce degree at the University of Alberta. To help pay for tuition and books (and, no doubt, snazzy titanium components), she worked evenings and weekends at a west end racquet club. I was a member there and played pretty much every day. It was inevitable our paths would cross sooner or later.
One evening, after Sharon got off work, I invited her for pizza. At the restaurant, between bites, she regaled me with tales from her cycle tours. There, between bites, I pretended to be interested. Would I ever do such a thing? Nah, I figured, not in this lifetime. After all, I had a car.
We continued to bump into each other at the racquet club. Nothing serious. After Sharon finished her shift late one evening, I thought it too dark for her to ride her bike home. Being a chivalrous sort of fellow, I offered to give her a lift. After some insistence, she agreed. The only problem: How on earth was I going to fit her bike into my car? I had never realized bicycles were so dang big! My recommendation? Leave the bike at the racquet club and walk back the next day to retrieve it. However, Sharon stood firm and insisted she needed her bike in the morning. Expertly she flipped a couple of chromed quick-release levers, and before I could utter "Wha-a-at?" she had removed the wheels from her bicycle. Between Sharon's admonishments to be careful with her rims, and me endeavouring to not get grease on my lovely ruby-red upholstery, I managed to shoehorn the whole contraption into the rear seat of my black-and-gold Firebird.
At Sharon's residence, we extricated her ride. Holding the bicycle upright while Sharon reinstalled the wheels, moonlight, filtering through overhead branches, struck her features most remarkably. I had never noticed before ... that little biker girl was seriously cute. (Of course one can't depend on that light.) I was smitten. For the first time, I thought perhaps bike touring wouldn't be so bad. After all, there's a lot of moonlit nights. So, even though Sharon's cyclist friends weren't enthralled that she was going out with a non-biker (how could anything like that last?), we began going out in earnest.
In fact, the next weekend, I borrowed my roommate's old clunker of a ten speed (it had only three usable gears -- not that that mattered anyway; I didn't dare take my hands off the handlebars to shift). Sharon escorted me on what she imagined an easy ride for a beginner -- along the local bike paths. Some of Edmonton's finest bike trails meander alongside the North Saskatchewan River through its lush and scenic river valley. Sharon figured a nice romp would be from where I lived in the west end, along the placid river to the east end, then back again -- a distance of perhaps 40 kilometres. For me -- someone who had never been on a bike much in my life -- it turned out to be a horribly long way. And the trails, particularly in the east I thought, grew ever more wiggly and undulating, until they became akin to some sort of out-of-control amusement park ride -- only not nearly as much fun.
With clenched teeth, and sore wrists, accompanied by legs that surely possessed more rubber than my skinny bike tires, I endured my introduction to cycling. And my rear ... unbelievable! The bicycle seat should be enshrined in a museum for ancient instruments of torture! I felt as if my nether regions were atop some old porcupine ... only not nearly so comfortable. In fact, I was so worn out, that, on one steep downhill section with a sharp bend at the bottom, I let my borrowed bike race headlong, faster and faster, until I was careening recklessly out of control. (Just between you and me, I imagined that if I crashed, at least my butt-on-fire ride from Hades would be over.) Fortunately for me, my days of motorcycle riding saved my bacon. I leaned precariously, but somehow made it around the corner. Hours later, back home and walking like a sailor with two new wooden legs, smitten or not, I declared forever and nevermore would I ever go on any more bike rides.
For some reason, Sharon continued to see me. A few months later, she even gave me a Christmas present. With a little smile, she handed me an envelope and whispered "Merry Christmas ... I hope you like the colour." I extracted a shiny brass key from the envelope. "It's for the garage," she said. Wow! I thought, impressed. Where Sharon lived, there was a two-car garage. I had had my eye on a little Alfa Romeo. Could it be?
Anticipation rising, I approached the garage.Twisting the key in the lock, the foremost question in my mind was what colour would my little Romeo be! Opening the door, the first thing my adjusting eyes made out was that the formerly vacant spot was still vacant. "Huh!?" I said.
"What do you think?" Sharon asked.
"What do I think of what?" I replied, confused and still staring in shocked disbelief at the empty space. Where, oh where, was my little Romeo?
"Over there ... against the wall," Sharon gestured.
"Huh!?" I said again.
"I bought you a touring bike," Sharon bubbled.
"Oh, my gosh," I said (or something to that effect). "So you did."
"Go have a look at it," she eagerly prompted.
"No thanks," I said. "I can see it just fine from here," I said, and closed the garage door.
Now, one may surmise, and rightly so, that would be curtains for our relationship. But, apparently I had built up enough brownie points that Sharon still saw me occasionally. She says I was extremely lucky I had such great legs.
On a bike tour in Australia's King Canyon, Neil spies a way to end the pain.
4) You describe your first bicycle touring adventure in another article on your Web site as well. A lot of visitors to Bicycle Touring 101 are people who haven't bicycle toured before or have toured very little. Looking back at your first tour what key things would you recommend that people consider when planning their first tour?
You know what? They can probably do just about anything and have a better experience than I had. You recall that bike Sharon gave me? Well, July rolled around (for a second time) ... the gift bike leaning against that same wall in that same garage for a year and a half now ... untouched). I had four-weeks vacation and wanted to visit family and friends in BC. Sharon agreed to accompany me for two weeks ... with the stipulation that upon our return, I would then spend the remaining two weeks doing whatever she wanted to do. "And what might that be?" I squinted (I wasn't born yesterday, you know).
"A bike tour," she replied. "You can even plan the route."
Ha, I thought. How tough can this bike touring stuff be anyway? (My excruciating ordeal on Edmonton's river valley bike paths had long been forgotten.) I shrugged. Rashly, Simple Simon agreed.
A few days later Sharon mentioned that maybe I should start training. "Why?" I blew off her suggestion. "I'm in pretty good shape from playing squash."
"It's different muscles," she told me.
"Big deal," I snorted obnoxiously. "I'll get in shape on the tour."
Still trying to persuade the foolish duck, she said, "It's different riding a fully loaded touring bike than riding an unloaded bike."
"So?" I retorted.
"I don't know what it's like to ride an unloaded bike, so
it's not going to make much difference, is it?" (Sometimes
my illogic astounds even me.)
Regardless, I didn't train by riding my bike. I ran some. I played squash some. I lifted weights some. We drove to Vancouver and had a fabulous time ... other than Sharon getting car sick. (I had never realized an adult could even get car sick.) Two weeks later, back home in Alberta, I was kicking back, getting ready for some serious relaxing. Sharon, stickler that she is, reminded me of my end of the bargain. Hmmm. I grabbed a highlighter and dug out a map. We had two weeks. Somewhat ambitiously, I was to discover, I planned a route from Edmonton to Jasper to Banff to Calgary to Drumheller, heck this was easy, throw in a side trip to visit friends in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, then tootle merrily back to Edmonton. "Well," I said, upon completing my highlighting expedition. I proudly displayed my handiwork to Sharon. "That should make a nice ride."
"Have you calculated the mileage?" Sharon asked, looking over my exuberant yellow highlighter lines.
"Well, no," I confessed. "Not exactly."
"Maybe you should," Sharon suggested. "Exactly."
So, back to the drawing board with paper, pencil, and calculator. Add the distance, divide the total by the number of riding days. I came out with a number somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 miles per day.
"That's a little much for someone who has never toured before," Sharon kindly pointed out.
"What?" I snorted. "That's not far in a car," I jibed.
"Well," Sharon responded, "it's pretty far by bike."
More to appease her, rather than any good sense on my part, I agreed to eliminate the Saskatoon portion. After a recalculation, I had it down to an average of a meager 100 miles per day.
"That's still pretty far," Sharon cautioned.
"Wimp!" I snorted again.
I traipsed to a local bike shop (actually, I believe I drove) to buy myself some cycling gear I was told I needed. Let's see, I thought looking around at the strange collection of gear and clothing. What's on sale? What's the cheapest? I never planned on doing this again, so I figured I might as well buy the least expensive stuff I could find. Way in the back, on some dusty long forgotten rack, I spied some teeny black and white cycling shorts at a bargain basement price. Cute. So what if they're a little small, I thought. They're supposed to fit snug, right? How about a water bottle? I need one of those? Okay, I reluctantly agreed, and ferreted out one for three bucks that included the cage. That should be good enough, I figured.
That evening, Chris, one of Sharon's brothers (she has six), came over to our place and installed the rear rack. Oh, yeah, and the water bottle cage. "There we go," I said, surveying Chris's work. "Ready to roll," I smiled smugly, pinching a tire to feel the pressure, just like I knew what I was doing.
The next day, panniers packed with little bundles of clothes rolled like neat sausages, the sun shining brightly, I strapped on my new helmet, triumphantly threw a leg over my top tube, and wobbled off in the general direction of Jasper.
I made it all of three blocks before my water bottle cage fell off. The plastic mount had snapped. Maybe cheapest isn't always the best? Fortunately, we hadn't yet made it past our neighbourhood bike shop. Making a pit stop, I upgraded to what I considered an extortionately priced six dollar model.
On our way out of the city, we followed a main route that I used to commute to and from work. Then, on Edmonton's outskirts, we connected to Yellowhead Highway #16, and pedalled towards Jasper. Being a neophyte bike tourer, I had never realized traffic might be a concern. I hadn't considered, let alone looked for, less trafficked routes. Nope, I figured, just get out there on the freeway and churn away. Wasn't that what bicycle touring was all about?
Pedal, pedal, pedal. This isn't so tough. The sun beat down. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Dark clouds obscured the sun. Hail. Yow! That smarts. Good thing I bought this helmet. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Ah, the sun's back out. Man, that feels good. Pedal, pedal, pedal. I glanced at my watch. Wow. It certainly takes a lot longer to get somewhere by bike. Head down. Into the wind. I churned onward to the predetermined campground.
Some time after 8 pm, after my allotted 100 miles, I wobbled into Chip Lake campground. Time on the bike? About eight hours. I attempted to dismount. Oh ... my. I hadn't really noticed before, but my butt was, shall we say, welded to the saddle. And my legs weren't exactly working like they used to either. And I was sunburned. I attempted to lift a leg over the bike's top tube, and discovered, somewhat bemusedly at first blush, I couldn't lift it high enough to clear the top tube. The cursed instrument and I had become one. I laid the bike over, and carefully, slowly, gingerly, extricated my being from the infernal contraption. While Sharon set up the tent, I sat at the picnic table, moaning softly. Those shade-too-small cycling shorts weren't looking like the greatest deal of all time any longer. Tent assembled, Sharon tossed in sleeping bags and pads and began to prepare supper. I stumbled, still moaning, toward our fabric abode.
"Aren't you hungry?" Sharon asked. "You have to eat," she said.
"I'm too tired to chew," I mumbled and laid down atop my sleeping bag, fully clothed ... including shoes ... I'd just have to put them on in the morning again anyway, right?
The following morning, I sat (with extreme tenderness) at the picnic table and ate just-add-boiling-water instant oatmeal. I glanced in the general direction where I had left my bike the day before. Dang! It was still propped against yonder tree. I shook my head sadly, sincerely wishing someone had stolen the instrument of agony during the night.
Time to leave, I discovered the reverse from the previous day's dismounting episode to be true. I couldn't lift my leg high enough to get back on my bike. I laid my bike on the ground, raised my foot eight inches (as high as it would go), stepped over the crossbar, and pulled the bike upright. As delicately as possible, I sat my weight on the saddle and winced. Never in all my life had I imagined a bike seat could be so abominably uncomfortable. And never in all my life had I imagined my rear could be so wretchedly sore. I was a virgin no longer. But, folks in an adjacent campsite were watching, so, I waved cheerily to them, and stalwartly set forth. Sharon followed, shaking her head.
Many hours later (talk about a slow learner), after pumping out another hundred miles into driving rain, I collapsed in a groaning heap once again. My butt was on fire, feeling as if someone was holding an acetylene torch to it.
The next morning, in drizzling rain, I repeated my as yet unpatented process of laying my bike on the ground to mount it. Fortunately, we had a short day, riding the remaining distance to Jasper -- a good portion of the way was completed standing.
In Jasper, we bumped into another touring cyclist couple. They introduced me to the wondrous world of many-flavoured hard ice cream, then invited us to join them for supper at a nearby restaurant. Hob and Deb, touring by tandem, hailed from Connecticut. They had done a lot of cycle touring, and, surprising to me at least, were still married. "Even though we have lots of money," Deb said, "we still prefer to bike tour on our vacations." She paused, chewing her words. "I think our family and friends are finally starting to believe us when we say we like it." I knew cyclists were crazy, I thought. Sitting as daintily as possible on the restaurant's wooden seat, I flinched. "How long does one's butt hurt?" I asked Hob, the male counterpart of the tandem duo.
"Oh, about three weeks," he replied.
"Oh, no!" I groaned. "We're going for two weeks!"
Key things recommended to first-time tourers (other than getting a rickshaw and having Bernie pull you around). "Ride your bike" is numero uno. :-) Make sure everything is fitted properly. Sometimes the tiniest adjustment will make a world of difference between having numb hands and tweaked knees. Find a seat that's comfortable for you. There are lots of good touring saddles available. And, yes, price does indicate quality.
At the beginning of your tour, plan shorter distances and more frequent breaks. It will help a lot in keeping your various body parts from getting too upset with you.
Secret advice: get yourself the biggest bowl you can find. We have plastic mixing bowls resembling WWI combat helmets in both size and colour, but any really big bowl will do. When outdoors and cycling all day, one gets famished: these bowls hold a humongous quantity of food. So, not only do you not have to go for seconds, but the huge quantity of food stays hot longer. And, the large bowls are doubly good if you're touring with others and sharing cooking duties -- the exact same amount of food in your gargantuan bowl will appear as a minuscule portion compared to what the other poor sods have in their normal-sized bowls ... so they always give us more.
5) When Sharon looks back at your first bicycle tour together what are some of the things that leap out at her?
Hang on, I'll ask her.
Okay, she says there wasn't a whole lot of leaping going on. Mainly bitching and moaning as she recalls it.
1. Buy cycling shorts
2. Don't let your ego or your odometer plan your trip.
3. Save the big mile/kilometre rides for training days or the latter part of tours.
4. Focus on fun.
6) Your books focus very much on the adventure of bicycle touring but without really giving any information on the type of equipment that you've used while doing so. Do you have a particular type of touring bicycle and touring accessories that you've had good experiences using during your adventures?
Well, while I do like nice equipment, I don't think it should be the focus. The important thing is: Get out there and have some fun -- with whatever you may happen to have at this particular time.
We have two bikes each set up for touring -- standard touring bikes and mountain bikes. Sharon has a 15-speed Norco touring bicycle with a triple chainring sporting a 24-tooth granny, 38 middle, and 48 top; cogs on the rear range from 14 - 34. That first touring bike Sharon bought for me was also a very nice Norco. I no longer have that bike. About a month after returning from our across the States tour, a big honkin' Ford ran a red light and broadsided me and the bike. Fortunately, I made out a bit better than the bike. The crumpled Norco was replaced by a Cannondale T600.
The more we toured, the more we realized that we enjoyed the less trafficked roads the best. And less trafficked roads generally mean worse road surfaces. So, we bought a pair of Trek 970 mountain bikes. We swapped the gearing to match our touring bikes, added butterfly handlebars for more hand positions, and had eyelets brazed onto the rigid front forks to accommodate front racks and fenders. We rode the mountain bikes for a jaunt from Edmonton to Vancouver and back, and also in New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia. Where we now live in Coalmont, BC, there are lots of logging roads and rail trails -- the mountain bikes are just about all we ride these days.
Mountain Equipment Co-op is our favourite place to shop for clothing. We also have good down-filled sleeping bags. Mine is rated to -7 Celsius; Sharon's to -12 (women tend to sleep about 5 degrees cooler than men). Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads are highly recommended -- they cushion and insulate you from the ground. We've found them to be the best bet for a restful night's sleep.
I have Ortlieb rear panniers that I use on the front. Our other panniers and handlebar bags are Cannondale or Nashbar. Some type of clips for closure may be a better investment; the zippers have pretty much given out on our panniers, mainly from trying to stuff too much inside. Our tent, sleeping bags, and pads get bungeed onto the rear carrier. We have a full complement of pots and pans, cooking paraphernalia, fuel and WhisperLite stove.
What to wear on one's feet? We used to wear Shimano, Specialized, or Nike touring shoes with toeclips and straps. But as we got into more rugged touring we found that a good pair of hiking boots served our purposes best.
The final touring accessory that will make your trip more enjoyable is to have lots of friends and relatives living along your planned route. Bon voyage!
Neil's bike, loaded for fall touring in Germany.
7) I enjoyed reading both of your books tremendously. I couldn't help but notice that although both books were written about the same tour it seems like they were also vastly different. When you look back at the sections of your tour that both books discuss what are the things that stand out in your mind as the major differences?
I'm very pleased that you enjoyed "Partners in Grime" and "The Lead Goat Veered Off." Thank you for the kind words.
With "Partners in Grime," you meet us just beginning our journey. We're more fresh-faced, I think, still in the gosh-golly gee-whiz look at us stage, we've broken the shackles of work and have escaped the rat race. Ha ha. We're really doing this. Can we really do this? As well, there's nothing like spending twenty-four hours a day with another person to really get to know her (and one's own) foibles. In that regard, "Partners in Grime," is kind of a man versus man tale, or, perhaps, man versus woman. <grin>
By the time Sharon and I experienced the Mediterranean island of Sardinia in "The Lead Goat Veered Off," we were fairly, what would one say?, hardened cycle tourists. We had, by then, been on the road several months. That shiny, brand-new, novelty of just escaped from the urban world, had worn off. We began touring Sardinia in January, which, even though it's smack-dab in the middle of the Mediterranean, turned out to be surprisingly chilly! "The Lead Goat Veered Off," is, partially at least, a tale about man (and woman) versus nature.
Then too, maybe it is inevitable for a trip of this length, but we discovered that the longer we were out there, the more that people became the most important aspect of our journey -- both those we met while traveling, and also our poor neglected friends and family back home. While the scenery may have remained grand, we realized, ultimately, it was the folks we met along the way that we cherished the most. Long after our return home, those personal encounters remain our fondest memories.
Shepherds in a mountain hut on Sardinia acquaint Neil and Sharon with the finer points of fresh cuisine.
8) Now that Sharon and you have children, have you introduced them to bicycle touring yet? Any plans for a future family tour?
Ah, yes, another slice of my life I was extremely reticent to enter! Once again, only at Sharon's great urging, did I reluctantly stumble and plod into parenthood. (This time, at least, she didn't buy a baby stroller and park it in the garage.)
Norman arrived in December 2000. He wasn't brought home on a bike, but that was probably only because he was born in the dead of winter. We now have a Chariot bike trailer. For the first few rides the little guy was strapped in while still in his baby seat. He was too small to even sit up by himself. Normie has been on numerous day trips and several overnight hiking trips. Usually he only complained when Sharon pulled his bike trailer too slow uphill.
In June 2003, along came Kiaira. She's a real going concern. Her name is Celtic, and supposedly means "small dark one," although I'm pretty sure its real meaning is "small loud one." So far, the only plans we have for family bicycle tours are in our immediate area. Fortunately, living in British Columbia, one of the most scenically blessed parts of the planet, that prerequisite isn't a hardship.
It sure would be nice to cycle in France or New Zealand again. I'm certain a family bike tour won't be in the too distant future. Pre-kids, Arran and Rebecca, a Kiwi couple that we toured with in parts of Europe, and extensively in New Zealand, came to Canada to bicycle tour with us. We all have kids now and the Kiwis have been making noises about how much fun it is going to be to all tour together. Guess we'd better update our passports.
Sharon gives Normie a taste for off-pavement bicycle touring.
9) I've heard rumours that there is a third book in the future. What area(s) of the world will this book describe?
The rumours are correct.
I'm working on a couple of cycle touring books at the moment.
One is on New Zealand and is titled "A Hedgehog Ate My Soap."
The second is touring in Australia and is titled "A Dingo
Stole My Shoes."
10) Could you tell us a bit more about your upcoming books. Are they similar to either of the already published books or do they also seem to have their own very unique flavour as well?
Well, they're similar in one way: you've already met the main characters. :-) I'll let you decide if they're different from "The Lead Goat Veered Off" and "Partners in Grime." I expect that they'll be more visually oriented with photos throughout. (It's funny how pictures make something more real. As you probably know, the first edition of "The Lead Goat Veered Off" was printed without photos. When it sold out, the second edition was printed to include full-colour photos. I handed one of the new copies to a friend who had read the first edition. He flipped through the pages and landed on the photos. "Holy s---!" he erupted. "You really did do this.")
The constant that remains, or at least I like to think it's there, is the sense of humour. Humour, as you know, is a very funny business. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. It all depends. And, funnily enough, a lot of that depends on the readers, their experiences, even their frame of mind at the time they happen to read the stuff.
11) I believe that you publish your own books directly rather than publish through another company. Many people write their own journals and at least a few consider eventually writing a book of their own. Do you have any suggestions for people considering writing their own book including the possibility of self-publishing?
Ah, yes, the thought, for many, of seeing their name as author turns out to be far better than the actual process of writing itself. But, for better or worse, to get to that final product, one has to sit down for long periods of time by oneself and do the real writing. (Don't get me wrong ... I love what I do. It's just not as romantic as it may first appear.) What stops most folks? A whole lot of hard work. Perhaps sanity sets in. Nathaniel Hawthorne said: "Easy reading is damn hard writing." A friend, who designs books, took a motorcycle trip across Canada last summer. He had many interesting experiences. He kept a journal. "Hey," he said when he returned home, "I'm going to write a book about it. I already know how to use a ton of the writing and publishing software and I can just self-publish it at one of those print on demand places." Well, he made himself a big pot of Java, got on his favourite sweater, and sat down at the old computer. He made it almost one whole chapter before throwing his hands in the air (ouch, that's gotta hurt) and proclaiming, "This is taking too long!" Last I heard, he was having trouble finding the time to put it up on the Web in an unedited form.
So, why do I think some succeed and so many fail? There are probably as many reasons for that as there are stars in the sky. However, two "requirements" come to mind: discipline, and the belief in oneself. Both are required. To complete a book-length manuscript (in the vicinity of 60,000 words minimum ... "The Lead Goat Veered Off" is 90,000 words and "Partners in Grime" is over 100,000 words) one must constantly put pen to paper ... even when the words are not flowing easily. As Nathaniel alluded to, one of the most difficult parts of writing is the art of making it look easy. And sometimes that can take a very long time. (A friend of James Joyce's came over to his place one evening and found the big man draped across his writing desk, moaning and muttering, "Five words ... five words," over and over. His friend asked, "James, what's wrong?" Joyce replied that for the entire day he'd written just five words. His friend, trying to solace the grief-stricken man, said, "Well, James, that's pretty good. At least that's pretty good for you." To which Joyce replied in a near sob, "But I don't know what order.") I suspect many people give up because the process is such a long one ... the time to write and publish most books is measured in years. "The Lead Goat Veered Off," for example, took four years, and "Partners in Grime," took three years (so I'm getting faster <grin>. Many folks like the idea of writing, but for whatever reason are unable to commit the energy and the not trivial amount of time to see a project through to its completion.
For sure, everyone can write about their experiences and self-publish. It definitely can be done. The writing portion, if one decides to go the self-publishing route, can turn out to be the "easy" part. Depending on how much of the process one wishes to take on, one has to obtain editors, cover designers, ISBN numbers, layout people, printers, the whole ball of wax is in your lap.Then, once you have a final product, what do you do with it? Marketing is a whole other ball game. There are many good books on the subject of self-publishing. Dan Poynter's 432 page tome, "The Self-Publishing Manual," springs to mind. It's a good place to start. It explores options from traditional offset printing to print on demand technology and solutions.
12) You seem to be a highly skilled wordsmith. You have an ability to construct amazing sentences with great grammar, proper spelling and with words that create images in your mind. How did you develop your amazing ability? Any tips for other aspiring writers?
Whew! Thanks, Jamie. Good golly, writers aren't used to praise. I'm at a loss for words. :-) You do know, of course, that it's not all done on my own. I have a great editor and supporting cast working tirelessly behind the scenes who do their utmost to make me look good.
How did I develop my writing ability? Well, I've been writing for years. So, I would say, writing is important to being a good writer. But, more importantly, I think, before being a writer, I was a voracious reader -- I used to read everything, and anything, I could get my hands on. I still like to, although now, with the various commitments in my life, I have less time for doing all the reading that I'd like to.
Tips for aspiring writers? Strangely, sometimes when people find out I'm a writer, they will confide, "I'm thinking of writing a book." So, I usually ask, "What do you read?" A surprising number reply, "Oh, I don't read." Yikes! Before one can be a good writer, one must be a great reader. Bringing to mind a story (that I read about): A writer is at a cocktail party. A brain surgeon comes over, introduces himself, and says, "I hear you're a writer. I've got a month vacation coming up and I was thinking of writing a book. Could you give me the name of your agent." The writer, an author with a couple of decades of experience in the writing craft behind her, looks at him and replies, "I've just finished a project and I have some free time coming up. Would you mind introducing me to your hospital director? I've always wanted to try my hand at brain surgery." Now, I'll be among the first to admit that writing is not brain surgery (and, I do believe that even brain surgeons could learn to write). :-) However, I get her point. (And in a month!? The length of time it takes to write a book is wholly underestimated.)
Like most things one accomplishes,
practice is a big part of writing well. You know how you start
off learning to hit a baseball? At first, you may not know the
proper stance or even how to hold the bat properly. And then you
learn how to swing the bat and actually hit that hurtling cowhide....
Wow! That has to be one of the most difficult hand-eye-balance-timing-coordination
things there is to do in the world. (Don't even get me started
on golf! <grin!>) But most kids learn how to do it. And
the ones that practice the most usually become the best at it.
Having said that, writing can turn out to be highly paradoxical
-- the better one becomes at writing, the harder it becomes! :-)
13) With so many places in the world that you've toured do any stand out as your own personal favourites and why?
British Columbia. And
not just because we live there. Gorgeous scenery and friendly
people at every turn. Come and visit anytime.
Off the beaten path in southeastern British Columbia.
New Zealand immediately
comes to mind -- a great country for cycle touring. Compact, an
enormous variety of scenery from active volcanoes and snowcapped
rugged mountains to glaciers and fjords. The Kiwis are laid back
compared to North Americans. Awesome setups for campers, cyclists,
Mt Cook is typical of South Island New Zealand scenery.
Australia! Granted it's
definitely not for everyone. Places can be very spread out, food
and water can be difficult to come by, poisonous snakes and spiders.
But the spaces are incredible ... Australia is very spiritual.
The bad news? We had cycled over 250 kilometres of Australian Outback before reaching this sign and we were still in the middle of nowhere.
Miles and miles of nothingness in Australia's Outback never failed to impress us with a sense of awe.
But if I had to choose
only one country in the world to cycle tour? That'd be France
(Sharon's top choice, too). France is different enough to give
one a sense of adventure, but not so different as to cause too
much culture shock. France boasts an excellent network of Departmental
roads that are little-used other than mostly local traffic. On
some of the roads we toured, maybe one car an hour passed us.
Terrific for taking in the scenery. And scenery they have in spades.
Gorges du Verdon and the Pyrenees are a couple of favourites.
The food is great ... cheeses, breads, fine cuisine, and, of course,
wine. Loads of history and architecture, too. Oh, and the French
people? Contrary to popular misconceptions, they are very friendly,
approachable and respectful to cyclists (perhaps their Tour du
France history?). If you've only cycle toured in North America,
and you decide to give France a try -- you are in for a very pleasant
14) When reading your books I find the various people that you've met to be incredibly interesting. You certainly seemed to have met many, many people. Looking back on your tour do any particular meetings stand out in your mind with special fondness?
At the right place at
the right time, I guess. A couple of special people pop to mind
that I haven't written about. June Curry, in Afton, Virginia,
also known as The Cookie Lady. We met June on our across the US
tour and stayed with her at her famous "Bike House"
for a couple of days. Just an incredible incredible woman. Huge
heart. Irrepressible and expansive warmness for other human beings.
It's hard not to like someone when the first words she utters
upon laying eyes on you: "I've been waiting a long time to
Sharon poses with America's favourite Cookie Lady, June Curry, at her Bike House in Afton, Virginia.
Another woman, Madeleine, in the south of France, falls into the same category. If there was a Trans France bicycle route, she would be the French equivalent of America's Cookie Lady. Sharon and I were in a train station near Draguignan at midnight one freezing cold December (another long story). Having missed our train, we were trying to determine where we were going to sleep for the night. Madeleine suddenly approached, said a few words we barely understood about leaving town for a week to visit friends, and thrust her house keys into Sharon's hands! How's that for trust and hospitality? (Believe it or not, we refused her kind offer ... we couldn't imagine staying in someone's house whom didn't know us from a bar of soap when she wasn't even going to be there.) But, before jumping aboard a train, Madeleine scribbled her phone number. When we returned to the region a few months later, we called her. She promptly invited us to visit. Two weeks later (!), we pried ourselves (reluctantly) from Madeleine's astounding kindness and cordiality. She was so sad when we left... she wanted us to stay a month!
Sharon consoles Madeleine, an outrageously hospitable woman in France who wanted us to stay for a month!
15) Stealth camping is one term that could be used to describe the type of camping that you seem to do a lot of throughout both books. I imagine that this has many benefits for you not only financial? Although occasionally you had some intense adventures as a result of your decision to stealth camp (the army assault on your camp on Sardinia strangely comes to mind) it seems like most of the time it worked out well for you both. What were the benefits of stealth camping for you and do you have any tips or tricks for others who are considering doing something similar during their adventures?
You're right about the occasional adventure arising from stealth camping. But the benefits, for us, usually outweighed the risks. Most campgrounds, especially in Europe it seems, aren't exactly located in the most scenic environs. And the price! Maybe it's okay if one is going for a couple of weeks or so ... but we soon realized that paying $30 a night for a teeny chunk of ground and cold showers wasn't a great deal.
We always look for public land. If there are "No Trespassing" signs, we respect the signage.
Here's what we try to do if we're going to free camp. We hit a town late in the day and buy food for supper and perhaps the following breakfast. We fill our water bottles (in addition to the bottles in our water bottle cages, we carried up to four 2-litre plastic bottles each for cooking and washing). Out of town, we keep an eye open for a camping spot. It doesn't take long to spy trails heading off the beaten path. Once our bicycles are off the road, we become nearly invisible to passing traffic. Even in Europe, we were surprised at how rural the place is once we were out of the cities.
We practice low impact camping and leave no trace of our having been there ... in fact, we often leave it better by packing out any bottles or garbage we see.
When we first began free
camping, we were nervous about someone discovering us and taking
exception to our being there. But, ninety-nine per cent of the
time, our worries were for naught. (The other one per cent is
where the adventure comes in. :-)
Free camping spot near Dijon, France.
One of many free camping locations in New Zealand. This one being along the Otago Rail Trail.
16) One thing that is really obvious in your books is how much Sharon enjoys a nice shower. In fact I suspect that this is one thing that she missed tremendously with all the Stealth camping. Did you ever consider using one of the portable shower devices?
Ah, yes, free camping isn't always so great in the shower department ... heating a pot of water over the old Whisperlite stove just isn't the same as twiddling a tap and getting gushing hot water.
Portable shower devices? Hey, excellent idea! There must be a way of converting a BOB trailer, equipping it with a few hoses, some fittings, a propane tank, plastic shower curtain? This could be your million dollar invention! I did try one of the black bag shower thingies from the local camp store. Another failed experiment. After I filled the bag with water, nearly herniated myself hanging it on a tree branch, then knocked onto the ground semi-unconscious after said branch broke, I was worse off than when I began.
Showers ... New Zealand style ... 210mm in 24 hours.
17) Isolation from your family members was a topic that came up in your books and especially your Lead Goat Veered Off from time to time. Did you consider devices like the Pocketmail to try to help to reduce the sense of disconnect with your families? Were they available at the time and would they have helped?
For sure, they weren't
as common. They definitely would have helped.... At the time,
finding public computers in the parts of Europe we toured was
difficult ... we had trouble even locating public phones to call
home! However, because of the lack of communication, we learned
things about ourselves that we wouldn't have otherwise.
18) Would you happen to have a teaser available from your next book so that those of us who have already read your books have something to help tide us over? When are you hoping to have your next book available?
As soon as possible! However, having kids can put a crimp in one's former prodigious output. :-) "A Hedgehog Ate My Soap" (New Zealand), and "A Dingo Stole My Shoes" (Australia) are in the editing stages. No firm date has been set for either release. Strangely enough, some readers have already pre-ordered and paid! I can't thank them enough. You know there's an order form in the back of my books for "The Lead Goat Veered Off" and "Partners in Grime" orders, right? Well, when I pick up snail mail, and discover someone has sent in an order form and has added their own lines ordering my next two upcoming titles, I can't help but giggle uncontrollably! Talk about a loyal reader base. Guess I had better get busy!
For folks who may not
be familiar with my work, here's an excerpt titled "Cinnamon
Buns" from "Partners in Grime":
"God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers."
~ Jewish Proverb
It was late afternoon when we arrived in Swan Lake, Manitoba. The only place open for miles around was a drive-in. But before Sharon would eat there she had me check the washrooms. Luckily, they were spotless. I reported my findings to Sharon. She ventured in and we sat at an old-fashioned booth.
After inhaling a couple of delicious gooey pizzas, I sauntered to the till and paid. "Do you suppose we could camp behind your restaurant for the night?" I casually inquired. "We're on bikes; we're really quiet, and we'll leave early in the morning."
"Sure," the fellow answered. "Plenty of room." He extended a big hand, and with a hearty handshake introduced himself as Mr Van Cauwenberghe.
"Adeline," he called. "Come here a moment. I have someone for you to meet."
Mrs Van Cauwenberghe was even more hospitable than her husband. "Would you like a shower?" she immediately asked.
I snapped up her fine offer.
She showed us around back. Opening a door to her son Mike's living quarters, she toured us to the bathroom. "Use as much of the soap and shampoo as you like!"
Much later, our skin scrubbed shining pink, Sharon and I sat at a picnic table behind the restaurant writing postcards. Feeling homesick for family back home, we were missing them as much as we imagined them missing us. Adeline appeared, breaking our melancholy. "Come in for a bedtime snack," she invited warmly.
We entered the restaurant. Adeline motioned us to a table marked reserved. She brought over tall glasses of cold milk. Mr Van Cauwenberghe set two plates of steaming cinnamon buns in front of us.
I was shocked. It wasn't like me to miss something like that. "I -- I didn't see cinnamon buns on the menu," I stammered.
"Oh, they're not," Adeline said, smiling. "We make them once a week, special for family."
How about that? Sharon and I grinned. Warmness spread through our beings. A couple of hours earlier we had merely been anonymous smelly strangers. Now these kind folks had adopted us as part of their family. Savouring the sticky treats, we realized even though we were a thousand miles from home, no one was ever truly far from home when mothers were around.
Okay, and now for an excerpt from "A Dingo Stole My Shoes." It's still a draft copy, so don't be too hard on me. Comments and suggestions are welcome.
"Was that a landing?" Sharon gasped. "Or were we shot down?"
"We certainly have landed in Sydney!" a pilot's chipper voice crackled over the intercom. The plane creaked like twenty-year-old bedsprings at a Nevada cat house. Reverse thrusters groaned. The jet shuddered violently, and we rollicked toward the terminal like a three-legged camel on amphetamines.
Having plummeted out of tumultuous airspace and onto Kingford Smith's sopping tarmac with enough force to flatten a tank, a neighbouring passenger peered out the rain-streaked window and into a sodden world. "Worst May storm in twenty years," she grumbled. Lightning punctuated her statement, flickering low across the lampblack sky.
"Welcome to Australia," a disembodied female voice intoned over the communication system. "Currently it is 17 degrees in Sydney and raining. Please observe that no fruit, vegetables, or cheeses are permitted into Australia."
Her final sentence jolted me more than the pilot's quasi landing. Grabbing my carry-on from the overhead stowage compartment, I frowned remembering the pound of caraway seed gourmet cheese stashed inside. An impulse purchase, we had bought the speckled brick at a specialty cheese shop near Auckland -- a congratulatory treat for having completed a five-month New Zealand mountain bike tour. And now the powers that be wanted me to dispose of it?
Shuffling down the plane's narrow aisle toward the exit, a pert flight attendant, wishing other passengers a pleasant stay in Australia, instead reminded me that no fruit, vegetables, or cheeses were allowed into Australia. Huh? Had she smelt my stinky cheese? "Please deposit any contraband items into the appropriate provided receptacles," she said with a wink.
My mind focused on the smelly cheese. Deposit it in the appropriate provided receptacle?! Obviously flight attendants have no idea how attached cyclists are to their food. Maybe I could eat the entire curd before checking through customs?
In a corridor, other passengers streaming past, I plunked myself down. Digging into my pannier, I extracted the creamy-white black-specked lump. Unwrapping it, I bit off a chunk. Mouth full, I waved an offering toward Sharon. She frowned and shook her head. "You're not really going to eat all that, are you?"
Like a rabid soccer fan, I chomped down on another fist-sized morsel. Finishing the remaining tidbit, I licked my fingers, feeling more than a little cheesy. The pungent blend of dill and anise crept up my esophagus. "It may be a while before I eat caraway seeds again."
In the main terminal, Sharon snagged our panniers from the slowly revolving baggage carousel while I burped, grimaced, and retrieved our plastic-wrapped bikes. Enveloped in multiple layers of Saran Wrap, handlebars turned sideways, derailleurs and spiky chainwheels encased, they looked suspiciously like French ticklers for an elephant. I grinned. "Think we're stretching the concept of safe cycling a tad far?"
With a conglomeration of panniers, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and Trojan encapsulated bicycles, Sharon and I schlepped our unwieldy cargo to stand at the very end of a very long queue waiting to process through customs.
Two beefy guards sauntered over.
"You have bikes?" the most muscular one asked, eyeing our French ticklers. I glanced at my bicycle, pushed out my lips, thought better of my intended response, and nodded.
"Have you been riding them in New Zealand?"
I nodded again.
"You haven't been riding them in any sheep paddocks, have you?"
"I mean actually in a sheep paddock."
"Oh, yes," Sharon replied. "And a couple of nights ago," she added brightly, "we slept in one, too." I could tell immediately that was information we should have withheld.
The officer's face twisted like he'd just been smacked upside the right side of his head with a wet lamb's tail. He brandished his security wand in a cranky manner. The husky guard smacked the wand's length across the palm of his generous hand. In a drill sergeant voice he bellowed, "You haven't been near any nuclear stations, have you?" Startled, I jumped, my eyes wide. We stood there like deer in Bosche driving lights, too shocked to even move or formulate a response.
The authority waggled his security wand over the pannier nearest him. A high-pitched wailing beeep-beeep-beeeeeep pierced our tympanic membranes. People closest inched away, staring open-mouthed. "Nuclear stations!" the guard thundered. He flourished the wand over yet another pannier. The wand screeched like a cat having swallowed a car alarm. "You're going to have to come with us!" the guard roared. He snatched the handlebars from my grasp and wheeled my bike toward the staring customs agents.
Dazed, Sharon and I sheepishly shambled along behind, pushing our mountain of luggage. The guards marched to the very front of the very long line. The maniacal wand waver spoke in a hushed tone to the customs official. "... have to be quarantined," I overheard.
We surrendered our passports to the agent. He flipped through the pages. "Do you have any fruit or vegetables?"
"No," I replied. "We had a pound of caraway cheese, but I ate it."
"Cheese from New Zealand is okay."
I groaned and turned a just-kissed-a-toad green. Sharon closed her eyes and sadly shook her head.
The agent scanned our passports a second time. He stamped them, then pointed toward the guards. "Follow them."
We trotted mutely behind our captors. At the end of a long colourless hallway we approached a door. It was emblazoned with one word: QUARANTINE.
Riding by moonlight in Australia's Flinders Range.
19) Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Just get out there and ride your bike. Touring by bicycle is an unmatched way to experience the world, or a country, or even one's own backyard. Somehow, the world is a better place when viewed from a bicycle.
Finally, I would like to thank the folks out there who are already touring by bicycle. You are surely the finest people on earth. I feel very fortunate to have been invited along to be a part of this big crazy family. Thank you.