Just about wherever you go nowadays chances are someone’s already been there. You’d be challenged to find many places on this planet where humans haven’t already been. Virtually everywhere you go, someone’s been there before you. And worse yet, if it’s a really cool place, somebody’s probably put up a fence around it and is charging admission.
The world is changing. Adventure travel isn’t what it used to be a hundred, even fifty years ago. But that’s no reason you shouldn’t go. If you travel to where you never been, it will be your first time. The journey will still be a rewarding adventure if you approach it right. And in a sense, we are all explorers in our own right.
Marco Was Here
If you’ve traveled in central Asia, Marco Polo’s already been there. His father, his uncle, and young Marco ventured along the old Silk Road and lived with the Khan in Cathay along with many others.
However, even young Marco wasn’t the first. Many Asian travelers and merchants had come before him and traded along the Silk Routes hundreds of year before the Polos ventured eastward from Venice. The Silk Road was a long-established trade route long before the Polo’s came along explored and traveled by intrepid souls driven by curiosity or to better their lot in life. The only difference was, young Marco just had the sense to write it all down.
The Polo’s traveled to make their fortunes, to build their wealth. Just as bold explorers, pilgrims, and merchants before them did the Polos went abroad for the same reasons. They traveled for not only the adventure but to enrich themselves monetarily and spiritually as well. Even in today’s globalization world with jet travel, the internet, and instantaneous communications, you can pretty much do the same thing.
Earlier travelers inspire me to go. Travel is even more interesting when seeing a changed land with a free set of eyes previous travelers have ventured through a long time ago.
Be Your Own Explorer
If you want to understand the world, travel to see places, discover things and see how the world is for yourself.
Explore for higher understanding. More times than not, the world is a different place than purported in the news and social media. Seeing things and meeting people for yourself provides you with personal experience of things as they are.
Voyage for the scenery or go for the historical perspective. Go for both, but go. Be your own explorer and explore for your own sake regardless of who’s come before you. If you have the desire to go somewhere, do it.
There are unexplored lands, unexplored by you, still waiting to be seen and experienced by you. As Heraclitus so aptly stated, “You could not twice step into the same river.” Sally forth, or pedal forth, and step into your own rivers. Just like it was their first time, it will by your first time too
Only You Can Benefit
In the end, travel primarily benefits you. You can tell others of your journeys and experiences, possibly inspiring them to set out on adventures of discovery on their own. However, it is you who profits the most from your experiences, making travel is essentially a selfish act, a form of self-enrichment.
Explore and discover for your own reasons, your own understanding. Permission and justification from other is not required. Travel for your own experiences, your own reasons. Get on the bike and see the world for yourself to better know and understand for the sake of knowing and understanding. It will be you who benefits the most.
Exploring is Largely a Mindset
Big or small, an adventure is what you make of it. Thus, exploring is essentially a state of mind. It’s an attitude you gradually cultivate within yourself as you travel and venture out to see the world.
Your mind, if it is to be an explorer’s mind, has to be open to the possibilities. It is the open mind that sets the conditions for discovery and lays the fertile ground to sew new experiences. It is the open mind that allows the unseen to be seen, the unknown to become known.
As the Eastern saying goes, “The beginner’s mind is open to many possibilities, while the expert’s mind is open to few.”
Adopt and cultivate a beginner’s mind that is open to the possibilities. Seek out things with a “let’s go and see” attitude when pedaling around. Chances are you will see and experience new things.
Inspired by Those Before You
Expeditions of previous explorers, adventurers, and travelers are rich sources of inspiration for future journeys. Tales of their trials and tribulations can become the siren song for adventures of your own. There’s a certain appeal in tracing historical journeys of previous explorers and adventurers after reading and researching their exploits.
Comparing and contrasting their experiences, their successes and failures with your adventures is a journey all its own. Riding in their footsteps and wondering what those intrepid explorers or trailblazers were feeling or thinking as you take in the places they’d been with a fresh set of eyes adds extra spice to your own journey.
In a sense, wherever you go are unexplored lands, unexplored by you. Just like it was the first time for the travelers ahead of you, it will by your first time too.
Cycling for Different Perspective
Traveling by bike provides you with a different perspective. The world looks different from the saddle of a bike. Propped up on your comfortable perch out in the wind and exposed to the elements, you’re able to “see” the world in a way peering through the windscreen of a car or from the seat of a bus are able to provide.
All of your senses are brought into play while riding your bike. Not only can you see the world around you better, you can smell it, hear it, and feel it too. In some instances, such as the seamy back alleys of Shanghai or Saigon, you can actually taste it as well. From the saddle of your bike, you’re able to experience travel with your entire body.
The people you meet on the road treat you differently. When they see you on cycling along a loaded up bike, they instinctively know you’re on an adventure and aren’t just some gawking tourist dashing out for a quick holiday. You are a true adventurer of sorts. Exploring by bike is an entirely different way to go.
Places No One Ever Goes
By simply traveling on a bike, you tend to go travel the places where most never go. Bike routes naturally seek out less trodden tracks. Getting on a bike gets you out of cars and buses and off the beat path. The best bike routes tend to follow “paths less traveled,” often winding along quiet byways and country roads away from the hustle and congestion of freeways and major thoroughfares frequented by tourist engorged tour buses.
Instead, you are often left to pedal along rarely seen, infrequently traveled backcountry roads or unhurried rural tracts of land that the masses and streams recreational vehicles have long forgotten and rarely experience. That’s what a bike will do for you.
Do the Research
Do a little research before you go. It makes a huge difference.
Possessing a base understanding and a little historical background of where you’re going provides the much-needed spice that will enrich your journey and make it several magnitudes more exciting than had you no understanding of where you were traveling.
So often I run across tourists and other travelers, cyclists included, who are pretty much clueless about where they are. They have no idea about a location’s people, culture or geography. It’s too bad, their journeys could be so much more.
Knowing a little bit about an area’s geography, it’s history and a few cultural facts about the people that live there adds so much more to a journey than just appreciating a pretty landscape.
Don’t Over Plan
Consider traveling by “directed wandering,” where you head in a general direction or towards a point of interest to just wander and see what you can see. Every adventure doesn’t have to be planned to the “nth-degree”. Too much planning can ruin the sense of adventure.
Plan the high points of the trip while Leaving a little “white space” for adventure to happen. Sometimes, or most times for that matter, it’s best to just get on your bike with a vague sense of direction and just ride. Pedal down the road and see what there is to see. Strike out and see what happens. More times than not, you will be pleasantly surprised.
Grand adventures are the dreams of life. Going on long journeys to explore the world is arguably the greatest reason to ride. Getting out on the road for extended distances and periods of time has a strong appeal and is the best way to explore not only the world but yourself as well.
Voyages far from home teach you not only about the world and yourself but of where you come from as well, both good and bad.
Keep a grand adventure or two percolating on the stove. As one adventure ends, it’s time to begin another. Nearing the end of one journey, my thoughts often drift to the next grand adventure that awaits, such is the journey of a traveling life.
Exploring isn’t about always about covering vast distances. When you’re unable to go far away, explore places near to home.
Do plenty of shorter rides in between the big rides to keep the juices flowing. Adventures don’t have to be to the far-flung ends of the earth. Pare them down to micro adventures or short multi-day rides close to where you live.
More times than not, there is plenty to see and rediscover near you home. Go as far as you can in a day. Spend the night somewhere and ride back a different round the following day. You’ll be surprised what you see and how far you go in a day’s ride.
Short rides are a great way to keep your edge and hone your skills. They’re a great opportunity to test out new equipment or to ride in inclement weather. Learn how to do difficult things on easy terrain close to home where you can bail if you have to.
The important thing is to keep wandering, to keep exploring and seeing what there is to see.
Explore Your Own Backyard
Can’t get away for the weekend? Then ride for a day. You don’t have to go far to explore.
Staying near your home isn’t a bad thing. Point your bike in a direction that piques your interest and start pedaling. Pack a PB&J to munch along the way. You check out a mom and pop cafe that you’ve never been or find snacks along the way. Just get up early, get on your bike and go.
Quite often there is a lot to see in your own backyard. There’s that trail along the river you always been meaning to ride. Or you could explore historic parts of your city if you so choose. Pedal along the railroad tracks to the train station and see what’s going on there.
Subsequently, two or three times a week, I jump on my trusty steed and just head out exploring Shanghai. Sometimes I know where I’m going but often I don’t. I just start riding and see what turns up. At times I get lost among the old Longtangs or little neighborhoods while checking out the street markets and snacking in local noodles stalls. Other times, I’ll wind up along The Bund or take the river ferry across the Huangpu River to ride among the ultra-modern steel and glass skyscrapers of Pudong. In a sprawling metropolis of 28 million people, there is a lot to explore.
Just get on your bike and roll. Adventure’s not going happen while you’re curled up in bed or stretched out on the couch with a bag of chips by your side.
What Are You Waiting For?
Get on your bike and get out there. It’s not important how far or how long you go but that you do go. Just get out there and explore. It’s irrelevant whether you’re headed to the ends of the earth or just down the block and along the river. The primary benefactor is you.
Explore historic locations. Ride the scenic routes and take in the landscape. Interact with the people. Be your own explorer. Explore for your own sake.
The intent of this piece is not to judge, but to inspire those with a willing heart to get up and go, and to explore this wonderful world we live in.
What are you waiting for? Take the next winding mountain road. The horizon breaking through the trees at the top looks fine and the ride will be worth the effort. Adventure awaits.
Please comment below and let me know what you think. Cheers, Johnny