Bikepacking Adventures Part 1
BILLY STELLING recently returned from another amazing bikepacking adventure. This time around he spent some time riding through the Caribbean island of Cuba.
Bikepacking by definition, basically refers to self-contained and self-supported travel by bicycle. It is simple really, budget depending, one carries supplies, camping gear and equipment along with you in specifically designed bikepacking bags or a variation thereoft. Personally, I enjoy the odd night in a comfy bed with walls around me and a roof over my head but depending which country you are in and what terrain you are
covering, those luxuries do not always present themselves readily.
Clothing and essentials are completely subjective and based on experience, but if you are carrying it all, it’s best to find a balance of functionality, lightweight and durability and take things that have multiple uses. A puffer jacket is both warm can be packed small and has multiple uses on and off the bike, I never travel without one.
Keep it simple, take essentials not luxuries, underpack rather than carry too much, one can always find things en route.
As long as I can recall I have always found Cuba an appealing country to visit. Much like most things in life that were out of bounds, my adventurous, slightly naughty, inquisitive side was always drawn to these temptations. Having moved to The Netherlands in 2004, one of my first days out was on a cold windy day to the coastal area in the Hague. It got so cold that I needed to buy a hoodie from a curio stall on the beachfront. The hoodies were all representative of one country or another. I chose a red one with a Cuban
flag. Since before then, perhaps from my enjoyment of history at school, I have always found this Caribbean
island something of an attraction, a fascinating country steeped in difficulty, an enemy of South Africa during the Angolan war and deeply influenced by mother Russia and her communist manifesto. With all of these intriguing factors, plus a multitude of white beaches, palm trees and mojitos, who wouldn’t want to go?
Let me retrace a few years, if I may, to the origins of my bicycle travel, tour organisation and exploration of
foreign places. It all started in 2007, when I organised a tour for five people from Monte Carlo to Rome on
road bikes, along the Mediterranean coastline, through Tuscany via the Holy Vatican City and into Rome. Since then I have ridden five different Caminos (Spain and Portugal), the path of El Cid, two months around Cuba, countless tours from Cape Town to the Garden Route and back, and a couple of corporate local tours in the Western Cape. It is quintessentially, in my opinion, the single, greatest all-round and adventurous way of exploring different cultures, architecture, gastronomy and how to find the general feeling of a country. Its fast enough to travel distance, but slow enough to immerse oneself thoroughly in the intricacies and framework of the chosen area. Soul food no doubt, but it does come with pros and cons. I would like to share some of my experiences, anecdotes and adventures in an effort to coax a few of you into doing your own bikepacking, touring or adventuring.
As much as there is a will to do something like this, maybe from deep inside one’s soul, as it is for me, the hardest part is to take the first step out the front door. This is a literal and a figurative step, which cannot be
ignored. Do not be deterred for the reward is always far greater than all the hardships of taking that first step, and that is a non-negotiable fact for me. Bear that in mind. Risk is, in this case, always worth the reward, but only in hindsight.
These adventures also do not have to be for weeks, months or years, they can start off by doing a weekend away. In my blog, I often plead with people to explore these mini adventures and perhaps it will lead to a person making wholesale life changing decisions for the better. The problem in this day and age is that the majority of people are on the “Hamster Wheel” of life, as I like to call it. There are certain responsibilities and commitments, which society deems to be correct and necessary, which we, as humans, take on and believe to be ‘the right way to live’. We get a career, a house, a family and all those things usually mean, kids, dogs, school fees, a mortgage, debt, blah blah, the list goes on. Once we are on that “HW”, it is infinitely harder to extract oneself and this contributes to that first hard step. Please let this not deter you from making small incremental steps to being able to find freedom to go on a bikepacking adventure which suits one’s own life, but these are all considerations which face modern society.
So, moving away from the obvious “HW” of life, let me share with you how I managed to be able to start my global adventure and the thing that fuels my soul, and in so doing, changed the way I think about the
world and my place therein. Please do not feel that I am preaching to anyone here, but I am merely pointing out that with the one, normally comes the other. That being, that the importance of possessions, status, and keeping up with the Jones’s, fall away, to be replaced by things that should make the world better. Kindness, gratitude, awareness, respect, non-judgement, acceptance. For me this is a natural progression people seem to get to when spending a significant amount of time on a bicycle, travelling a country with a tent and the bare minimum. The inhalation of a different way of being, coupled with a welcoming of our own gratitude to be able to do this thing, majestic scenery and a realisation that time in one’s own head away from the norms of everyday life, is by far the best ingredient for the journey to find one’s own inner peace. The introspective nature of bikepacking to me, allows for clarity on so many problems surrounding our very daily existence and a way to conjure up solutions to the things which complicate our lives. How can that not be awesome? TBC …