A Familiar Story
Many long-distance cyclists will have experienced it. You come across another westerner, cycling out in the wilds of Laos, Thailand or Borneo and you stop for a conversation. They seem to have cycled almost everywhere in the world worth cycling. There is a zeal in their eyes when they talk about it. Looking down you see sculpted calfs and a physique that belies the age of the rider – he says he’s retired so he’s probably in his sixties. Then you ask the question – “So how long have you been into cycling?”
And this is the familiar bit. Frequently these irrepressible enthusiasts will tell you that five or ten years ago they weighed twice as much as they do now, drank heavily and smoked forty a day. They hadn’t ridden a bike since they were a kid.
“I had a heart attack. The doctors told me if I didn’t change the way I lived I would be dead within a year. I stopped smoking, stopped the heavy drinking, stopped eating junk and got some regular exercise. A friend suggested I take up cycling.”
What they then tell you is how the weight began to fall off them and their health began to return. But invariably they go on to talk about how they began to love the cycling – the buzz it gave them, the people they met and the simple pleasure of being out in the countryside.
One Dutchman I met in Laos was a case in point. In fact his name was Kase. We met him at the bottom of a long steep hill somewhere north of Vientiane (the diminutive capital). We stopped.
“Are you okay, do you have a problem with the bike?”
“No no, my wife was telephoning from Holland so I stopped. Where are you from?”
“England. You’re from Holland yes – is this your first time in Laos?”
“No my third. I’m on my way to Vietnam then I’ll fly home from Saigon. Only three weeks this time.”
“You do a lot of this then?”
“Oh yes. I’m nearly always away. I can’t stop, because I love it so much. Six years ago I was so fat and unhealthy and my doctor told me to get exercise. I bought a bike and I found I loved cycling so much. Now my family hardly see me. Ha ha, before they could always find me sitting in the chair, watching TV and drinking beer. I love my life so much now. It’s incredible. Anyhow I’m sorry I have to go, I want to make it to Luang Prabang tonight. Watch out for the hills, guys – there is a big one about one hour ahead. It continues up and up for about sixty kilometres… but the view is incredible. Enjoy it and watch out for the hot springs place – you can’t miss it… incredible!”
The incredible cycle destination of Laos
Miracle Weight-loss Formula
I always sigh when I hear someone say they are on a special weight-loss diet or that they are going to the gym. For a start these are unlikely to work because (unlike Kase) their way of life will not fundamentally change. Moreover, I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would suffer this kind of boring regime when they could be out there in the beauty of the world, enjoying the gentle motion of pedalling a bicycle. Cycling is the best route to fitness and good health I know. It’s gentle – you are unlikely to suffer impact injuries etc that you may well experience in other sports – it’s meditative, it needn’t be expensive and you can do it almost anywhere. But the big selling point is that you can be going somewhere, visiting interesting places and enjoying beautiful scenery while you’re getting your exercise. There is also a tremendous sense of achievement at the end of every day’s ride and even more-so at the end of every expedition. In fact I would say I have rarely met a depressed, miserable or pessimistic long-distance cyclist.
Next time you are thinking you need to go on a diet or that you should take out a gym membership, do yourself a favour, take a trip to your local cycle shop instead.
In 2008/9 Mark Swain cycled from Ireland to Tokyo, a journey of 10,000 miles with his 18 year old son Sam. If you would like to read their bestselling travel book ‘Long Road, Hard Lessons’, you can find this, along with his two collections of short stories, on Amazon, Smashwords etc.
In the UK his books can also be found in all Waterstones Bookstores.