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

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 amazon.com , BalboaPress.com, BarnesandNoble.com, 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 amazon.com , BalboaPress.comBarnesandNoble.com 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 amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com, or through your local independent bookseller.

Falling in Love with Solo Bicycle Travel

Photo by Bogdan R. Anton on Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com
Photo by Jacob Colvin on Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

John O’Groats In My Sights!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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 amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd

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

Bicycling along Loch Ness

My virtual bike ride takes me alongside Loch Ness in Scotland for the next couple of days.

Photo by Callam Barnes on Pexels.com

To inhale fresh, clean air and bicycle around my area with a purpose, I signed up for a virtual mission last spring to walk  the Camino de Santiago with a friend. We both tracked our progress when we walked or bicycled in our neighborhoods on an app with the My Virtual Mission organization. It was a good way to combat the frustrations of not being able to travel during our Covid shutdown. I found myself bicycling more and more and felt so uplifted by the experience. The organization planted trees every time we hit the milestones of 20, 40, 60, 80, and 100%.  We could even log on and see the street view of where we were in our progress and find out what the weather was like! The experience helped combat stress and frustrated wanderlust, so I signed up for another mission when I completed the Camino de Santiago.  

Photo by Callam Barnes on Pexels.com

Today I am bicycling alongside Loch Ness in Scotland as I approach John O’Groats at the northern tip of the country. I’ve come 928 miles and have 156 miles to go. The weather is rainy and it is 33º F (1º C). A big change from the 54º F (12º C) in my town in California!

The organization sends me a postcard when I go through areas of interest and history. Here is my postcard from Loch Ness. 

Almost 30 years ago I bicycled this same route, but on the other side of the Loch! Here is an excerpt from my book, Bicycle Odyssey, about that day.

We stopped at Loch Ness but didn’t see Nessie, the famous Loch Ness Monster—a creature locals consider to be more than a myth. We looked out over the still loch waters and talked with a man working by the side of the road.

“Hello! Have you come to see Nessie then? She hasn’t shown herself today,” the friendly man said.

“Have you ever seen Nessie?” I asked.

He took off his cap and scratched his head. “Aye, many times I’ve caught a glimpse of her. You should have been here yesterday. My neighbor looked out the window as she was cleaning,” he said as he pointed to the house by the loch. “She said she saw a hump of Nessie’s back come right up out of the water.”

Loch Ness, with a depth that surpasses the oceans surrounding the United Kingdom, was connected to the ocean at one time. Over the years, scientific investigations using sonar in the dark mysterious loch have yielded large animate objects. Not a single ripple disturbed the surface for us, though.

I would love to go back and bicycle through Scotland. Until then, cycling through the country virtually will have to do. The experience helps satisfy my desire for travel.

What have you been doing to combat stress and open up in your world? If you are interested in trying a virtual adventure of your own, check out My Virtual Mission. Maybe I’ll see you on my next planned experience, trekking to the top of Mt. Fuji!

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 amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd

Changing Holiday Celebrations

This year so many of us will experience a change in our holiday routines and celebrations. One year when that also happened stands out brilliantly in my mind.

Aarti in Karnataka

In December 1991 on our bicycle odyssey we climbed up into the high elevations of Tamil Nadu, India to reach the town of Kodaikanal which sat at seventy-two hundred feet in swirling mists with thick pine and eucalyptus forests. Kodaikanal means “the gift of the forest” in Tamil. The hill station lies on the edge of the Western Ghats in the Palani Hills.

The Western Ghats

 Minimal traffic circulated in the quiet town, and the fresh, cool air was pleasant after the high temperatures in the plains below. The town offered a delightful place to settle in for a few days of rest and exploration. We planned to spend Christmas in Kodaikanal, hike in the hills, and take day rides without the constraint of our gear.

Forest monkeys near Kodaikanal

During the colonial era, the English had ascended to higher elevations and established hill stations to escape the heat and dust of the plains in the summer. Many of the structures in the town had been built during that time period. The stone buildings, cottages with fireplaces, and old churches reminded us of Scotland. We found our own one-hundred-year-old cottage to rent. Fireplaces in both the bedroom and the sitting room provided cozy and comforting heat in the chilly mountain nights. Because of the eucalyptus forests, we could buy fresh eucalyptus and lemongrass oil. Almost three decades later, I still have the bottle of lemongrass oil. The aroma has stayed potent and transports me back to Kodaikanal with one whiff. We took hot, steamy showers and inhaled the eucalyptus oil to clear our respiratory systems. We cleansed and healed from our ordeal bicycling in the hot dusty plains below

A local resort offered a Christmas Eve buffet and we decided to attend. As we walked over along the lake that night, pangs of homesickness echoed through me. I missed our families and holiday meals together. I knew they worried about us. They received news of our whereabouts and wellbeing only once or twice a month when letters and postcards arrived. We, however, were on this great adventure. The homesickness usually vanished when I focused on the next experience. My thoughts of home melted away at the gathering, where we met people from different parts of India, who traveled to the resort while on holiday.

Before and after Christmas, we spent several days hiking and bicycling in the forest around Kodaikanal. We rode and hiked peacefully together in harmony with nature and each other. Deep in the forest, we experienced a side of India most visitors don’t have time to see and don’t even know exists. Our journey by bicycle connected us with the hidden, out-of-the-way places that held exquisite beauty and magic.

Forest monkeys – mother and child near Kodaikanal

That Christmas broke with tradition. At first I experienced homesickness and nostalgia, but the new experiences and encounters filled me with joy. That holiday will always stand out in my Christmas memories. What about you? Do you have some unusual holiday memories? 

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 amazon.com , BalboaPress.com ,  or BarnesandNoble.com .

https://amzn.to/2V9x6Rd