Friday, May 2, 2014

The Cycle of Life

I was invited to give a talk to about 60 men at a Men's Breakfast meeting this morning on Bicycle Touring at Willetton, Western Australia. Thought I like to share that here on LTF as it somewhat captures my joy and passion. Don Buchanan, a 70 year old tourer, went before me and he was inspirational. He shared about his amazing trip from Land's End to John O'Groats in England, and also his trip to Yunnan China.

It's a long journey from one end of England to the other and here's proof in a map...

Here is my take, I hope it inspires you to get on your bike and tour...

Ped Al


Gd morning! Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with you about my passion on bicycle touring. The title of my sharing this morning is The Cycle of Life, Touring in Asia. Don’t worry as I’m not going to talk about re-incarnation or some Zen concepts. I want to share with you my passion for bicycle touring with reference to Asia, and how it has shape my outlook and values of life.

I somehow feel that today’s gathering is a bit special as we are like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In all of us, there is a yearning for a mission and an adventure.

“Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”  John Eldredge – Wild at Heart

There are many things you can do to achieve a purpose or a battle to fight, to achieve adventure and sometimes, even a beauty to rescue, hopefully its your wife or daughter. But bicycle touring ticks all these boxes and more. I tell my friends I live for 2 Gospels – and Gospels simply mean good news. It is my privilege of course to share with you the good news that God loves you very much and desires for us to come to him. It is God that gives us the ability to enjoy the cycle of life each brand new day.

The other gospel I want to share with you is that cycling is good for you as its health benefits are incredible. God has made our bodies to be active and medical research has shown that exercise, even moderate exercise has immense benefits in weight loss, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and stress, improving fitness, keeping us alert & even giving us good sleep. One side effect is also it keeps you looking incredibly young and happy – many of my cycling friends for example are like me. Im 52, and Pete over there is a youthful 60. Although some of us may have lost most of our silver hair, we can still look good with a fancy helmet!

Legs of 70yo Don Buchanan

But what I shared with you seriously won’t get you on your bike as it’s like our Moms telling us to eat our veggies. I mean how convincing can it be to hear that we need to eat 3 servings of fruit and veggies daily. But the real deal begins when we start touring on bicycles, not just cycle leisurely around the rivers, or to the shops or to work. Our Bro shared about his amazing trip just now and Im sure we were all in awe and slightly jealous.

Personally, I started touring 8 years ago and do about 3-4 trips per year all around Asia. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and I shall be popping into Burma briefly as we tour South Thailand in August and possibly Japan in November. If you are keen to read about my travels, I have a blog called Lovethefold, which captures my trips on folding bicycles through volcanoes, rice fields, mountain tops, tropical islands and ancient sites.

We are talking here about adventure, freedom, journeying and escaping - escaping to a world that is far simpler. A simple world that revolves around a rhythm of riding, eating, exploring, washing, sleeping and awakening to do the same, only to experience a totally brand new day as you embark on another day of adventure.

These words from a touring blog – The Human Cyclist captures the essence of touring. 

You leave the metropolis behind and upon escaping its shadow, the land is greener, the sky bluer, the vistas bigger. Smooth winding roads await. The sun inches up into the sky and the road stretches out before you like a river meandering mile upon mile to the sea, the day so long it feels like a season, your journey more important than the destination.

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”  Robert Louis Stevenson

The journey is not so much going from Pt A to Pt B, but A to Z with a thousand different combinations. Each day in itself is so different and special from one another, as there are so many uncontrolled variables that play to form a rich tapestry of unique experiences. What is the weather going to be like? Will my bike be able to take the punishment when the road turns nasty? Am I going to encounter nice drivers or that lone crazy one? Who are the people I am going to meet? When I get hungry or thirsty, what options are available for me? Will my health hold up after subjecting my tired body to the mercy of the elements? And when you complete that journey intact after savouring all the rich experience of being outdoors in an exotic land, there is a certain sense of accomplishment that money cannot buy.

Unlike daily life in the city where we seem to have it all under control, touring forces us to realize how unpredictable life actually is, and that we don’t have everything under control. On our recent ride to Taiwan, we had 4 riders fall off their bikes on a steep descent down a mountain road. A storm had come unexpectedly and the winding road was slippery. They were all newbies. Amazingly, everyone had very minor injuries including a lady who hit her head hard on the ground and cracked her helmet. They all could still continue riding on in the highest spirits. One rider had one brake failure going down another mountain pass through fog and storm, but got down safely. A police car was fortunately behind us and was flashing his lights blocking traffic from the rear!  Also, my wife had a puncture when we arrived in Taipei City. I was glad it was there and not flying down high speed at 40-50km/h down the Tarako Mountain pass in tight formation.

There was also an incident in an Indonesian island when a storm forced us to take the later ferry. If we were on the earlier one, we would be tossed around like a match-box in the sea. These are some of the many “lucky” or “fortunate” co-incidences we encountered but when a string of co-incidences keep occurring, our journey starts to take on a spiritual dimension regardless of what we believe in.

We are compelled to conclude that someone up there, is watching out for us. Interested in us somehow. That “The Force” in Star Wars lingo, is indeed with us and that we are spiritual beings that yearn to be connected with our Creator. The familiar phrase “God loves you!” begins to be experienced fully and not preached. The co-incidences then start to become God-incidences. Our eyes for things spiritually start to see some light…

3 of my friends who are not church go-ers, remarked in their facebook postings…

R Lee, a retired Naval Missile Gunboat Commander - Looking back at the trip, it was a good blessing no one got injured despite the numerous falls and brake failures. Thank God.

J Lee, a designer and film producer, who took a stunning picture of us cycling through the mountains with the clearest blue skies wrote - Thks for laying the blue sky for us. You are great!

S Ling, an accountant – I count our blessings every single day!

You have heard Don share about his amazing tour in England from one end to the other, and in China. So why tour Asia? Yes, it’s relatively nearer to us so that means cheaper airfares. But allow me to offer 5 reasons…

1.  Value for $. While a simple meal here in Perth is about $10-15, a plate of Pad Thai noodles cost A$2. Hotels here average $150-200, we have stayed at $12 per night in a B&B in Takeo, Cambodia, including a delicious 5 course dinner and breakfast. I tour on a budget of A$30 per day comfortably, including food and board + drinks. It is actually cheaper to tour Asia than to stay in WA! A$1000 per month is plenty.

2. A rich culture & long history. Here in Australia, our history spans only perhaps 200 years at most but in Asia, civilizations have existed for thousands of years. It is magic to cycle through the ruins of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap Cambodia, sleep beside a B52 bomb crater, walk inside ancient temples glittered with gold, or castles that are 600 years old. Up in Mae Salong Thailand, I met with the son of a Kuomingtang General who now runs a guesthouse.

3. Amazing people. As a cyclist in Asia, you are not seen as a rich loud tourist. You are strangely accepted and its easy for the locals to open up to you. Although there are some weirdos and baddies, as a whole Asia has many friendly people. I once stopped to catch my breath in Laos in a small drink stall, and a young girl selling oranges came up to give me one from the kindness of her heart. And if you have white hair, seniors automatically get respect especially in the country. The locals in the country find it a novelty to take a picture with you, and friendly kids just line up to give you Hi-5s in Laos as you cycle pass them. There are people who invite you for meals and to sleep in their homes for free even! Marriage proposals too.

4. Food to die for. What can I say? If you think the food at the Asian restaurants here are good, you ain’t taste nothing yet. Fresh flavors from exotic spices, curries, noodles, rice, veggies, fruit including Durians and Mangosteens, rich broths and even eating fried insects and spiders. With an open mind and curious palate, you are in for a treat. Pete who has travelled with me through Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand enjoyed the food so much that he says how can he go back to Vegemite and Toast?

5. Photography. Your camera will be so happy in Asia. So much to shoot! Mountainous landscapes, fast flowing rivers, amazing flower and fauna, animals, people, clouds, the sea, golden sunrise and sunsets, the road per se. I have researchers asking me permission to use some of my pics in my Lovethefold blog for their work in anthropology. One of my them is this pic capturing elephants bathing by the waterfalls in the morning in Laos.

So how do you start?

1. Join a bike tour. There are many tours that offer fully supported bicycle programs. They are a good starting point as everything is planned for you. Once you have some experience, you can start doing it yourself.

2. Bicycle. You don’t need a hi-end bicycle for touring but it must be reliable, able to carry panniers and has climbing gears (which usually mean triple cranks). I use folding bicycles because they offer the advantage of easy transportation and ability to hop on buses, trains and boats easily. Safety too as can be kept in hotel room.

3. Equipment. Helmet, Ortlieb panniers, gloves, 2 water bottles, spare tube, tools, pump, riding clothes, gloves, 200w lights etc

Allow me to introduce to you my touring buddy Pete Roscoe. He has just retired after spending 40 years at Western Power. Pete has lost 10kg since picking up cycling 2 years ago and has just recently had a quadrable bypass heart surgery.

Please help me welcome Pete, as well as Rod Withers and Ian Howard...

1.  How long have you been touring and where have you toured?
2.  What are 3 highlights for you? (food, fellowship, kindness, achievement, fun)
3.  Do you need to be exceptionally fit to tour? (no but reasonable fitness needed)


Let me conclude by saying that touring on a bicycle is very much like our cycle of life here on earth. The cycle of life I’m referring to is to understand which season we are in – just like we are now in Autumn, and approaching Winter of our life’s journey.

We need fortitude to overcome challenges, we need to keep moving, we need to take risks in life, but most importantly is that we need to know where we are heading. There is no shame in seeking help when we have lost our way, or when we are confused or find ourselves groping in the dark. The good news is that we don’t tour alone in our adventure of life as God is there for us. After all, Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life!”

Life is short and when the end comes, our maker will probably ask us where did we visit in our 70-80 years? If we say Perth to Albany or Geraldton only, He will probably reprimand us with, “I’ve given you the whole world to explore in your whole life time. You’ve only been around WA?”

So Gentlemen, get on your bikes and explore the world. The adventure awaits! Do so with the blessing and guidance of God.