Bicycling Scotland

My virtual bike ride the length of Great Britain during these Covid19 times brought me back to memories of Scotland on my around-the-world bike trip in 1991.

Yesterday, the virtual bike ride took me across Hadrian’s Wall. Romans erected this wall of stones, also called The Roman Wall, in AD 122. The wall stretches 73 miles from coast to coast. The Romans built it to defend the south from the wild northern tribes. Today, Scotland lies a few miles north of the wall.

We started our tour of Scotland in July, but it was so cold that we

piled on all the warm clothes we had brought with us 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.

The terrain was deceptive. Our bodies had the endurance to ride many miles in a day, but forty miles in Scotland often included numerous hills and strong headwinds. When we stopped to rest, the midges—tiny bugs that swarmed and delivered a nasty bite—attacked any exposed skin, leaving itchy welts that were by no means small.

We had trained as much as we could before the trip on the trails in the mountains above

our house in California. But nothing can completely prepare you for the journey of bicycling every day for miles. We developed new muscles and built stamina on this first leg of our travels across the Scottish Highlands. When we asked a Scot about the terrain up ahead, he answered with “fairly flat.” We learned that this response translated to “hilly” in our language.

I delighted in the ferry rides to the different Hebrides islands.

We cycled across the Isle of Mull to board the ferry for Iona.The island enchanted us as soon as we docked, and my feeling of melancholy from bicycling in the rain the past few days lifted. The mist descended, and turquoise water lapped the pink rocks in the harbor. We wandered down narrow roads with no traffic. Sheep grazed in vibrant fields bordering the lanes.

Tobermory after the storm

Rain pelted us during the entire sixty miles to Tobermory and really brought me down. But the next day when the sun came out, my spirits soared again. I was amazed at how much the weather affected my mood. The Isle of Skye shone a brilliant emerald in the sun as we pulled into the harbor on a ferry.

The Isle of Skye

Another ferry brought us to the Isles of Harris and Lewis. Immediately off the boat, we climbed a steep two thousand feet. Although we were exceptionally tired, we managed to make it to the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis. The stones stood silent and empty except for a flock of sheep grazing nearby. I gazed in awe at the solid blocks of stone that had stood for thousands of years. As night began to fall, I pressed my palm to the stone’s rough surface, which still held warmth from the sun. I thought about the history. What rituals took place here? What were the people like who participated? I closed my eyes and listened to the stones in silence.

Callanish Standing Stones

Our environment can affect us deeply. Sometimes we pick up on the vibrations of a place without knowing its history and only later, when we learn more about it, have our feelings confirmed. This happened to me a lot on the trip. Looking back, can you recognize instances when this has happened to you?

Our environment can affect us deeply.

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 .

Bicycling Great Britain

November 22, 2020

We’ve all, for the most part, had to curb our wanderlust these past nine months. I used my time to complete my book, Bicycle Odyssey, about my epic around-the-world bicycle trip.

Then, encouraged by a friend, I entered a virtual trek on the Camino de Santiago. The challenge took me out onto the quiet streets of my city and beyond to new neighborhoods.  It brought me full circle back to bicycling daily and filled me with exhilaration. I completed the 480 miles over the summer, becoming a virtual pilgrim. The adventure left me thirsty for  more so I entered a virtual length of Great Britain challenge from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Now that I am 60% through the 1084-mile trek, I find myself right by England’s beautiful Lake District where I started my epic around-the-world bicycle trip in 1991.

These past nine months have brought me back to my passion of bicycling. It had been buried for a long time and I am thrilled to have it back. Have you rediscovered something long neglected this year? Or discovered something new?

Below is an excerpt from the beginning of my book, Bicycle Odyssey just out now.

We covered thirty-five miles that first day. Exhilaration swept through me. Mist filled the sky, and rain fell softly at times. The clean, fresh air cleared our heads. We cycled along gently rolling hills and down narrow country lanes bordered with thick vegetation. At one point, dozens of bleating sheep blocked the road and milled about. Two highly trained sheepdogs responded to the shepherd’s whistles and kept the flock in order while we all waited for a train to pass.

Our itinerary led us north to the Lake District National Park, a mountainous region known for its lakes and forests. Hill Top was home to Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and many other well-known children’s books. William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and other poets had also resided in the Lake District in the early 1800s. We set up our tent to face the lake near Ambleside and Windermere, and gazed out, drinking it all in. Imagine stepping inside a painting by Constable or Turner! The visit to the Lake District was Dermot’s father’s suggestion. It stands out for me as the most beautiful spot we visited in England. The Lake District is part of Britain’s National Trust for environmental and heritage conservation. Since we could visit many impressive historical properties in the National Trust, we decided to purchase a membership to use throughout our trip. Traveling through England and Scotland transported us into the worlds of many of the authors we had grown up reading.

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 .

Lake Windermere, The Lake District National Park, Great Britain

Lake Windermere, The Lake District National Park, Great Britain

A Sudden Shift During Our Travel Through India

November 13 fell on a Friday a few days ago just as it did in 1991 during our bicycle trip in India. We laughed at the date that day as we set out from Mysore. We had experienced blissful days bicycling by the pastoral fields of Karnataka after the festivals. Farmers harvested grain and carted it off with ox-drawn carts. The chaff-filled air gave the sky a golden hue and we glided on traffic-free roads over gently rolling hills. But  Karnataka was in deep in conflict with the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu over a water dispute that had raged for over a hundred years. The day we set out, Karnataka declared a strike that prohibited vehicles from driving on the roads. That would make for a peaceful day to bicycle south, we thought.

Harvest in Karnataka

We were so wrong! The day of the strike we came upon a road block after ten miles. About sixty people, mostly boys and teenagers with a few adult males, surrounded us. They yelled and jeered with an edgy excitement. We talked to the ringleader and asked if we could continue through. We explained that we wanted to travel to Bandipur, twenty miles up the road. He instructed us to wait ten minutes while he considered our request. We leaned our bikes against one of three trucks the crowd had forced off the road. We put our backs to our bikes and turned to face the pressing mob. The ringleader held a flexible stick about a yard and a half long, which he snapped like a whip around the throng to keep them in check. He nearly hit us! The agitated crowd yelled, their frustration fueled by those around them. We asked whether the roadblock was because of the Tamil Nadu water issues. No one understood that much English, but when they heard  the name of the state, they yelled louder and beat the air with their fists.

We decided to turn back to Mysore. As we approached the city, masses of protesters swarmed in the road blocking our path. I caught sight of flames grabbing at the blue sky. Hundreds of young men chanted and pumped their fists in the air while others set an effigy of the prime minister ablaze. We cut down a side street, veering off course. When we thought we had dodged the mob, we swung back to the main street but encountered yet another mass of protesters marching in our direction. We turned down more side streets and arrived safely at our hotel, only to find that the gates were locked.

The hotel gates were locked…

The next day we read in the paper that an estimated five thousand demonstrators had marched in the streets of Mysore. Ten people had been wounded in Bangalore, one person had died from a gunshot wound, and mobs had burned two movie theaters.

Our previous experiences had filled me with wonder and gratitude and now I trembled with fear and uncertainty. Yet, I was thankful that we had a safe harbor in our hotel amidst the chaos around us. The sudden change in tone reminded me that nothing lasts for ever and how important it is to adapt and be flexible so we can change course in the face of danger or unexpected obstacles. Plus, that night at dinner we met the most interesting fellow bicyclist who ended up biking with us for a few days after the civil unrest calmed down. He took us on a detour into the mountains we might have missed without him. We also gained deeper insights into the history and politics of India as we learned the back story of the hundred year-old water dispute.

A negative and scary incident led us to a positive one. That often happens in life. Sometimes we don’t see it at the time and only recognize it in retrospect. Reflecting back on your life, are there times this has happened to you? Did a negative or unsettling experience lead to you something positive?

You can read about the our around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book;

Bicycle Odyssey

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

by Carla Fountain

Available in print or ebook through , ,  or

Festivals in India

Every November for the past thirty years I am brought back to the festivals I attended while bicycling through the state of Karnataka in India. I set out with my husband on a two month journey through southern India by bicycle. Our only agenda was to look for magical places away from the tourist trail. A chance encounter by the side of the road led us to divert our route to a small, tucked-away village during its most important festival of the year. A young priest befriended us and took us under his wing for a life-changing week.

This diversion from our route ended up being my most memorable experience from our two and a half month odyssey through southern India. That experience taught me the valuable rewards we can reap when we listen to our intuition and stay open to serendipity.

As I reflect back on that era I am reminded of the importance of trusting our intuition all the time in our daily lives. Of the importance of keeping our eyes open to serendipity. It is a constant dance. What wonderful things have happened to you when you did this? When you trusted your gut feeling in spite of the impracticality of it?

Ganesha Festival

was the first one we attended during that magical week in the hidden village we stumbled across.