When I was younger, cycling was one of my favourite activities. It probably sounds unlikely to those that know me now, given that I’m a lot lazier these days than I used to be, but until I was about sixteen I was out on my bike all the time. And I loved cycling on holiday more than anything. There were childhood holidays in Cornwall with my friend’s family, riding the Camel Trail or taking our bikes on long treks through stunning pine forests. Better still were the weekends on Dartmoor with school, with mountain biking around muddy trails and, once, cycling around a huge, beautiful reservoir on a surprisingly sunny winter’s day. It always seemed to be so exciting to cycle somewhere new, the perfect way to explore, so when I saw this cool infographic on cycling in the Algarve from James Villa Holidays, it brought back all those lovely holiday biking memories.
Sadly, after I left home my passion for biking (or doing anything active) faded a little, and as of last year it had been almost a decade since I’d last ridden a bike. Suffice to say, then, that getting back on a bike for the first time, only to cycle it down winding mountain roads through thick mist, from a peak of over 4,300m above sea level was something of a shock to the system. I was in Peru, embarking on the mildly terrifying first challenge of my Inca Jungle Trek, but it really is true what they say – you never forget – and after the initial thrill of fear I enjoyed myself immensely. That first reunion with biking – throwing myself back in at the deep end – led to more bike trips in South America, the culmination of which was that backpacker’s right of passage, cycling Death Road in Bolivia.
An uneven gravel track, no wider than the length of my bike in some places, marred by sharp corners, the shrapnel of recent rockfalls, and occasional waterfalls over the road, Death Road was a real test of my courage. And I almost failed: after a loose bit of rock almost threw me off my bike, I couldn’t face the stomach-churning drops to my left any longer and had to hitch a ride on the tour group’s van for the worst section of the road. Getting back on the bike further down the track, facing up to my fear, and ultimately enjoying the ride, is one of the things I’m most proud of myself for doing in perhaps my entire life.
Since then, my relationship with cycling has been far less rocky. While I’ll be avoiding death-defying bike routes for a while, I am very much staying back on my bike. It’s such a wonderful way to explore a new place and can be a really good way to immerse yourself into the culture of a city. Especially in The Netherlands, where my boyfriend and I spent a month housesitting at the start of the year and where cycling is the favourite mode of transport. The excellent system of bike roads was impossible to resist, and one glittering January morning I cycled from Dordrecht to Maasdam on the hunt for those iconic Dutch windmills. It was freezing cold and fairly uncomfortable, but it was also beautiful, with the iced blue sky overhead and watery sunlight falling on the beautiful farmland around us.
These days, bike tours are my favourite way to explore new cities, especially those like Buenos Aires – which I toured with the fantastic Biking Buenos Aires last year – that are simply too big to walk around. In Barcelona, another city which favours cycling over walking, I headed out with J.R and Gaston from the awesome Barcelona Experience on a tour of the old quarter by bike. Quicker and less tiring than walking, exploring a city by bike is so much fun and really is the perfect way to travel. My heart is set on taking a cycling holiday later this year and exploring an entire region by bike – perhaps I’ll take that infographic as inspiration and head to The Algarve, or maybe I’ll just go back down to Dartmoor and find that reservoir again. Either way, I’m determined to cycle as much as I can when I travel from now on.
Where was the best bike ride you’ve ever taken? I want to hear all about it – so leave a comment and share!