Bicycling the Green Way in France

Last summer I had the wonderful opportunity to bicycle a full 40-kilometer trail with no traffic.

A network of trails made on railway lines no longer in use runs throughout France. Called “les voies vertes”, these trails are smooth, and blissfully free of traffic. Only pedestrians, horses, and bicycles are allowed on the green ways.

No Cars!
Friendly Donkeys
The Caroux Mountains

Do you have favorite biking trails in your part of the world? Or trails you look forward to discovering?


The Tour de France 2021

Le maillot jaune! The yellow jersey!

Last week I had the opportunity to see the Tour de France cyclists race by on their leg from Nîmes to Carcassonne. Since the race went by only 2 kilometers from my village, I invited a friend to come with me for this rare opportunity. We packed a lunch of baguette sandwiches with Serrano ham and tomatoes. Cucumber slices, potato chips, and fresh peaches rounded out the meal. Slathered with sunscreen and armed with an umbrella to shade us on the hot day, we walked the two kilometers to wait by the side of the road with other locals. My French neighbor suggested we bring chilled rosé to compliment the meal, but we made do with water.

My favorite car, a Citroën 2CV, was part of the opening cavalcade passing out merchandise.

The Tour’s estimated time of arrival in our area was at 3pm. Before then, around 1:30, a cavalcade of vehicles came through tossing out gifts of t-shirts, hats, pencils, and other merchandise to the waiting fans. I caught 4 pencils, a coupon for chicken cutlets, and a sample of dish soap. One of the pencils was from Domitys, a senior residence company. Were they target marketing !? The youngster near me beamed with his booty of four hats and two t-shirts.

This brilliant clown kept us entertained while we waited for the cavalcade and the riders.

One of the highlights of the day was a local clown who kept us entertained while we waited for both the cavalcade and the riders. He had me in stitches with his antics.

I was touched when the clown tried to win my heart with a wildflower bouquet.

Maybe because I laughed so hard at his antics, the clown took a fancy to me and offered me a wildflower bouquet picked from the fields beside us. He waited for my response with a shy stance. When I curtseyed to thank him, he pirouetted and flapped his arms in ecstasy.

The riders went by so fast we could barely take them in. The strong wind they generated almost threw me off balance!

The moment we awaited arrived. The first three riders zoomed by. It was almost anti-climatic! The main group of cyclists, the peloton, followed them. They cycled so fast, in such a tight group, we could barely take them in. The strong wind they generated almost threw me off balance. We left after that – tired and sunburned, but happy to have witnessed such an iconic event firsthand.

What bicycling events have you done this summer? Do you follow cycling events? I don’t follow racing, but it was thrilling to see this event in person.

If you like to read about travel and bicycling, you can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Bicycling in Kenya

Three months into our around-the-world bicycle odyssey, we flew to Kenya from London. We landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi in the morning and rolled our bikes out to pump up the tires. We fortified ourselves with a sweet roll and tea with milk at the airport, clipped on our panniers, and biked ten miles into the city. Traffic was light on the two-lane road in the early-morning hours. We cycled past zebras and giraffes grazing in the plains. The view of those wild animals in their natural habitat felt like the authentic beginning of our adventure.

Photo by Carla Fountain

One night we camped near Lake Naivasha on a beautifully manicured lawn.

Fisherman’s Camp near Lake Naivasha, Kenya – Photo by Carla Fountain

Hippos swam in the lake during the day. The tips of their ears flicked at us as we boated by.

Photo by Pixabay on

But late that night in our tent, we found out how the lawn was maintained: large hippos came out of the lake to walk around and graze. We inched the zipper open and peeked out. The huge, black hulks of hippo bodies stood too close for comfort, with their red eyes reflecting back at us. We could hear them quietly munching the grass.

Photo by Roger Brown on

Around midnight, I had to leave the tent to go to the bathroom! Shaking and scared, I gave the hippos a wide berth and got back into the tent as quickly and quietly as possible.

Photo by Follow Alice on

Many years after our trip I found out that the hippo is considered one of the most dangerous and deadly land mammals in the world. They are aggressive and unpredictable, and they kill an estimated five hundred people a year in Africa. Their massive weight—an average of three thousand pounds for females and as much as nine thousand pounds for males—can crush a human to death. Had we known that at the time, we would have been even more terrified.

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through ,,, or at your local independent bookstore. Ask them to order for you. Help support indie bookstores!  These independent stores now carry my book: Half-Off Books in Fullerton, California, Vroman’s in Pasadena, and Book Soup in West Hollywood. 

Creativity in Uganda

Homemade scooter in Uganda – photo by Carla Fountain

Our decision to go to Uganda on our around-the-world bicycle trip in 1991 was the result of a conversation with an English woman we had met on safari in Kenya. She had traveled to see the gorillas in Zaire, and she said the best part of that trip was going through Uganda and meeting the Ugandan people. She told us she would do the trip again just to go through Uganda and encouraged us to continue bicycling west along the Pan-African Highway.

Remnants from the wars – Photo by Carla Fountain

In 1991, few tourists had visited Uganda since the early 1970s because of the political turmoil. Tourism was starting up again slowly, so we saw very few other travelers on our trip. This made for many pleasant encounters with Ugandans, who were welcoming and eager to talk to us.

Photo by Carla Fountain

At the time we entered the country, a large project was in progress to rebuild the roads. For much of our ride, we cycled on freshly asphalted roads built by either Chinese or Yugoslavian aid workers. We also cycled on long stretches of hard-packed dirt roads. The earth was a rich red, a gorgeous contrast to the sharp blue of the sky.

Photo by Carla Fountain

Uganda possesses spectacular natural beauty. Fertile, red earth abounds. Every day we delighted in the lush, green hills we rode through. We cycled in the “short rain” season. It would rain for about an hour or two each day. The daily rainfall was a small price to pay to bicycle through such gorgeous nature.

Photo by Carla Fountain

One day we climbed through vibrant vegetation overlooking the hills and the Rift Valley. In the valley, we saw deep craters filled with lush banana trees and blue lakes. White clouds dotted the azure sky. The sight was refreshing, gorgeous, and pure—a hidden Shangri-la.

Photo by Carla Fountain

Often, when we entered a village we saw children playing on the street who smiled at us with friendly interest. Ugandan children made ingenious toys for themselves out of necessity. They fabricated toy trucks, cars, and even ride-worthy one-speed bicycles. They engineered many of the toys with movable parts. One boy had crafted a large, toy helicopter, which he pulled along with a stick, making the propellers spin. He decorated it by writing “Uganda Red Cross” on the side.

Photo by Carla Fountain

We noticed how the cows changed from region to region on our trip. In this area of Uganda, the cows had three-foot-long horns spread far apart, similar to a Texas longhorn. At one point, we almost ran into a bull crossing the road when he stopped to look us in the eye. We braked furiously to keep our distance.

Photo by Carla Fountain

Our month in Uganda was one of the highlights of our trip. We couldn’t have planned it. Because we had stayed open and adaptable, and followed our intuition we were led to explore off the beaten path where we encountered some of the warmest people and the most beautiful nature on our year-long odyssey.

We picked up a hitchhiker! – Photo by Carla Fountain

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through , or at your local independent bookstore. Ask them to order for you. Help support indie bookstores! These independent stores now carry my book: Half-Off Books in Fullerton, California, Vroman’s in Pasadena, and Book Soup in West Hollywood.

After you’ve read the book, please let me know your thoughts. If you’ve made creative toys like the children I met in Uganda, please tell me about that in the comments below.

Flat Tire Blues

Today I got a flat tire in the middle of my ride. I longed for the bicycle tire repair men abundant when I bicycled through Vietnam in the spring of 1992.

Tire repair in the Mekong Delta – Photo by Carla Fountain

 A persistent flat tire plagued me. I had already repaired it three times. In frustration I decided to try one of the roadside tire repair shops we frequently passed. The repairman submerged the tube in an old army helmet filled with water to check for air bubbles and found the puncture. He put a piece of rubber on the tube, placed the tube on an anvil, put foil over the tube, clamped it down, squirted kerosene on the foil, and ignited it. It burned for two to three seconds. The man unclamped the tube to reveal a vulcanized seal. We marveled at the clever process.

Vulcanizing the seal – Photo by Carla Fountain

A huge crowd gathered to watch and to look at us. This was the norm throughout the month when we stopped. The attention we attracted led us to suspect that not many outsiders passed through the area. We stopped for iced tea at a café later and soon drew a crowd of over fifty, mostly little children. At first, they stayed outside the confines of the café. But little by little, they inched inside until, within ten minutes, they surrounded us. We drank up and decided to go. As we pushed our way out, a frowning policeman strode up and insisted that we go to the headquarters. We followed him into the small wooden police shack, where he questioned us in Vietnamese. 

Helmet inspection – Photo by Carla Fountain

When we visited Vietnam in 1992, the United States and Vietnam did not yet have diplomatic relations. Most people we met hadn’t seen Americans there since 1979. We obtained paper visas from Thailand to go to Vietnam on the advice of a traveler we met in Bangkok who had just returned from a month’s visit. He urged us to go as soon as we could while the country was just opening up. He told us there were more bicycles than cars on the roads and that it was the most beautiful country he had ever seen.

We needed travel permits before we left Saigon for our ride through the Mekong Delta. The man who helped us get them said we couldn’t officially travel independently. What we were doing in the delta was technically illegal.

Friendly crowds in the Mekong Delta – Photo by Carla Fountain

After getting my tire fixed, we looked for a ferry to visit the Coconut Island Temple. Crowds of people filled the docks. Kids grabbed my arm to pull me toward various food stalls and tweak at my braids. My shoulders clenched and heart raced because they used so much aggressive force. But when I looked down at their faces, my eyes met little girls with huge smiles, so I relaxed and smiled too. I extracted myself from them as best as I could and quickly left to join the line boarding the ferry.

Ferry ride in the Mekong Delta – Photo by Dermot Begley

About eighty of us crowded onto the ferry on foot along with two buses and two trucks. The ferry ride was a big social event of the day. Hawkers moved among us, selling cigarettes and candies. People talked, socialized, and laughed. They included us in conversations and asked questions. I loved the easy, friendly interactions. Women touched my arm or draped an arm on my shoulder to talk with me. My hair fascinated them, and they often caressed my braids, saying, “Dẹp,” the Vietnamese word for “pretty.” Their kindness touched me. All through our trip in Vietnam, women approached me and told me how pretty my hair was. I said the same to them. This was especially poignant to me because, as an African American child with tight, curly hair, I had always been told that I had “bad hair.” Straight, long hair was the culturally desired norm in the sixties in America as well as in the African American community. When the women in Vietnam told me my natural hair was attractive, they warmed my heart.

On the Mekong – Photo by Carla Fountain

When we arrived in Saigon most of the traffic consisted of other bicycles and a few motorbikes. The slow-moving traffic allowed people to talk with us as they cycled by. People waved and greeted us from the side of the street as we passed. In March 1992, foreigners were a novel sight, especially foreigners on bicycles. Several young men biked alongside Derm and chatted with him. A cheerful older man cycled up to me. He asked where we were staying and volunteered to take us there.

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City – Photo by Carla Fountain

Vietanam was a dream to travel through by bicycle. As we left Vietnam, I reflected on how fortunate we were to have visited at that point in time. Vietnam remains to this day one of the highlights of our trip. I felt privileged and grateful to have visited when the country first opened up and people were eager to connect. The women I met in the country embraced me into their sisterhood with their friendly and natural interactions. People mainly used bicycles, and few motor vehicles circulated on the roads. That made for an ideal bicycling experience on our journey. A chance encounter steered us to Vietnam. After our trip, I agreed with the man we met in Thailand who spoke of the natural beauty in Vietnam. We couldn’t have planned the highlights of our year-long, around-the-world bicycle trip. They happened only because we had stayed open and adaptable, and followed our intuition.

Sunset on the Mekong Delta – Photo by Carla Fountain

What about you? What surprises and delights have you discovered in life because intuition led you to deviate from your plans? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Read the book!

You can read about my life-changing, around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through , ,  or, or through your local independent bookseller.

Spring Energy

All around me on my short rides I see nature blossoming. Spring brings the added benefit of extra sunlight hours. The light lingers longer on the horizon after the sun sets than in the winter months so we can squeeze in an extra half-hour of bicycling. In my corner of California, orange blossoms fill the air with a sweet intoxicating scent. Their perfume fills me with nostalgia for my two years in Valencia, Spain known as La Costa del Azahar (the orange blossom coast).

Orange blossoms
Bougainville blossoms
Lemon blossom

Maybe like me, you are shaking off winter sluggishness and feeling more optimistic about future plans and travels. The planning stage is a fun part of travel. I spent five years planning and saving for my around-the-world bicycle odyssey. It was well worth the effort. I spent another five years writing about the journey.

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

On the shelf in the travel literature section of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena and Half Off Books in Fullerton.

Bicycle Odyssey – An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through , , or at your local independent bookstore.

Please drop a line in the comments below to share you spring plans and dreams. Happy bicycling!

A Tea Break With Healthy Scones

While bicycling long distances, food is important to fuel the journey. When I think about my around-the-world bicycle odyssey, I sometimes get a craving for the various foods in the countries we traveled through.

“July in Scotland was chillier than expected, so we piled on all the warm clothes we had brought with us. A revolutionary, waterproof, and breathable material called Gore-Tex had come out on the market. Because of the rain, we layered jackets and pants made out of it for warmth. The big highlights of each day’s cycling were tea breaks with scones or biscuits to warm and fuel our bodies. We averaged fifteen miles per the tea and bread.”

I reminisced about my refueling stops on our bicycle journey in England and Scotland the other day. Holding a warm cup of tea and eating scones was a welcome fortification and rest break on a long day of bicycling up and down the countryside hills in Great Britain. I decided to cobble together a healthy scone the other evening after a long bicycle ride on a chilly California day.

Here is a quick recipe you can try when you get a craving for a scone but don’t want all the butter and cream that goes into the usual recipe.

1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 T brown sugar or honey

3 T butter or coconut oil

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup blueberries

Mix all the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the yogurt and vanilla (add the honey now if you are using it instead of brown sugar). You may have to use your hands to knead the dough. Add the blueberries last, stirring and kneading gently so you don’t smash them. Shape the dough into circle on a lightly floured surface until it is about one-inch thick, then place it on a non-stick pan, or a  lightly-greased pan. For a sweet treat, mix 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 2 tsp of brown sugar and sprinkle on the top. Score into 8 pieces with a knife. Bake at 425º for 20 minutes until golden. The warm cinnamon aroma will call to you when it is done! Cool for 5 minutes.

Try substituting the blueberries with raisins, currants, or blackberries.

Brew a cup of hot tea and enjoy!

While you sip your tea you can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through , ,  or .

If you’ve read the book, I would love it if you shared a photo of you with your copy and your tea!

Happy reading!

Falling in Love with Solo Bicycle Travel

Photo by Bogdan R. Anton on

When did I fall in love with travel?

I fell in love with solo bicycle travel, when I took my first week-long bicycle ride down the Pacific Coast by myself. It was exciting and thrilling to plan a trip that would take me from Astoria, the northernmost city in Oregon, to San Francisco. I planned to ride alone the first 4 days and 230 miles, then meet my husband in Arcata, California and continue the trip together for 280 miles more. When I told my plan to colleagues and friends their eyes widened and they expressed fear for me, a woman, traveling alone on a bicycle. By the way, this was in the 1980’s before cell phones and the internet gave us instant communication, so I was truly disconnected and on a solo adventure!

Photo by Landon Parenteau on

But I was confident and really wanted to embark on this challenge and exploration of new territory. Everyone I met on the road, in campsites, hostels or in the little coffee shops where I stopped for short stacks of pancakes mid-mornings to fuel up for the next 20 miles, was kind and generous. I passed the most breathtaking scenery of sea stacks on the wild Oregon coast. I pedaled over smooth roads with very little traffic.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on
Photo by Jacob Colvin on

My main challenges were when one day, deep in the forest, lines of logging trucks rumbled by and shook my bicycle with their tail winds and when I crossed an long, narrow bridge in the rain alongside those enormous trucks.

Photo by Aleksey Kuprikov on

I camped or stayed in hostels and once I stayed in a little mom and pop motel. I loved meeting new people from all over the States and the world in the hostels. If I had traveled with a companion I wouldn’t have made many of those encounters and enjoyed their conversations.

Photo by elijah akala on

By the time I arrived in Arcata I felt strong, self-reliant, and comfortable on the road by myself. I had conquered the pouring rain, the threatening trucks, and reaped the rewards of deep forests and pristine coastlines the likes of which I had never seen. That trip made me fall deeply in love with solo bicycle travel. It also made me realize how much strength, both mental and physical, that I possessed and taught me to have confidence in my self-reliance.

What experience made you fall in love with travel? Please share in the comments. I would love to hear about it!

Photo by Dorothy Castillo on

You can read about the life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey I embarked on after this experience in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through , ,  or .

John O’Groats In My Sights!

Photo by Pixabay on

Only 5 miles to go to reach John O’Groats, the northern tip of Scotland and the end of my 1,084 mile journey. Yesterday I passed the ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe on my virtual bicycle ride.

This last week has been difficult. Sometimes, when the end is in sight, the effort of the journey can weigh you down. You need to muster up the will to keep going. All that is going on the world now overwhelmed me the last two weeks.  I am in the healthcare field, so you can imagine.

But getting on my bicycle has been my sanctuary. Feeling the clean air against my skin was a purification at the end of the day. The rushing air blew away a majority of the stress. So I forced myself onto my bicycle before the sun sank, coaxing my tired limbs to pedal. I knew I would feel better afterwards even if in the moment I only wanted to curl up on the couch and nap.

Photo by Pixabay on

There were many days on my year-long odyssey when I felt the same way. I had no choice but to get on the bicycle and keep going. A few times, when one of us fell very ill, or locals warned us not to attempt the road ahead, we took a bus for a short distance. In the end, as we watched the scenery go by and became nauseous from the bus fumes, we usually regretted not biking.

Photo by Dorothy Castillo on

At least twice, we contemplated cutting the trip short and flying home. But we stuck with it and celebrated the accomplishment. The rewards were enormous.

Have there been times when you almost gave something up but persevered? How did you feel?

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through , ,  or .

PS. I made it to the end just before posting!

Bicycling France’s Loire Valley


We flew to Paris with our bicycles. But in order to avoid fighting traffic in the city we took our bikes onto the Réseau Express Régional, (the commuter rail service that links Paris to the suburbs) out of town as far as we could. We started cycling at Saint-Martin d’Étampes past brown fields of mown hay, waving barley, tall oats, and yellow sunflowers. 

In addition to the secondary roads, France has a wonderful system of even smaller roads only the local villagers use. These are the roads we chose for our trip in France. They are the thinnest lines on a detailed map and are called “departmental roads.” We bicycled past a village every three to ten miles.

Our first destination was the cathedral in Chartres. We spent an afternoon in and around the glorious medieval cathedral, marveling at the 167 stained-glass windows in its Gothic interior. The Chartres Cathedral, home to a Black Madonna (Notre Dame de Pilar), is one of several pilgrimage sites throughout Europe with Black Madonna figures. We walked around the labyrinth on the floor of the cathedral, following the footsteps of pilgrims who had walked it for hundreds of years. This was a good start on our journey through France.

We continued on toward the Loire. Bicycling the Loire Valley was a dream. The land was fairly flat with dense forests on either side of the road. Every so often, a stately château broke up the ride and begged us to visit. We easily bicycled over one hundred miles a day, still managed to tour a château or two, and ate well. With the long summer days, we packed two days of cycling into one. Our legs and stamina were strong after Scotland. In France the days were warmer, and the sun shone during our entire month there. Campgrounds were plentiful with amenities, such as hot showers, clean toilets, swimming pools, and even little stores. We met other campers from all over Europe and enjoyed talking with them about travel and life.


The châteaux of Blois, Amboise, and Chinon impressed us, but my favorite château was Chambord, which Leonardo da Vinci had helped design. I had visited Chambord many years ago, but bicycling up to the château was an entirely different sensation.

I hadn’t realized that the grounds were so enormous and surrounded by woods full of deer, wild boar, and other animals. Before our visit inside, we took out our cameras and fanny packs with our money and passports, and locked the fully loaded bikes together. We did this at every stop without a problem.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci’s final resting place in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, Amboise.

The Loire Valley in France is a wonderful bicycling area. I highly recommend it both for the ease of cycling and the abundance of campsites.  Unlike many other places we bicycled in 1991-1992, I believe the area hasn’t changed too drastically. Since then, many reclaimed rail lines have been converted into bicycling, hiking, and equestrian trails. They are called “voie vertes” in France. The possibilities of bicycling for hours without traffic are very enticing. I want to explore more of them soon. Do you have favorite rides or hikes to recommend? Or ones you are dreaming of doing soon?

You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.

Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery

Available in print or ebook through , ,  or .