The 'A' in Adventure

Jack Donohue


There are a lot of commercial outfits with "Adventure" in their name. Going to a foreign land is adventure enough and it's nice to have someone do all the legwork and planning for you. But there's another element of adventure in setting out on your own, with no fixed destination, and winging it.

Cycle touring allows the ability for adventure but within limits. I'm not talking about the round the world on a mountain bike, across miles of muddy dirt roads, through hostile territories replete with wild animals. This is Adventure with a capital 'A', the stuff books are made of. I prefer the kinder gentler adventure, with a small 'a', that bike touring affords. Basically as long as you travel on paved roads, chances of perishing from hunger, thirst, or being eaten by wild animals is relatively low.

Some people like to have things pretty well laid out. They like to know where they're going to sleep at night, where they're going to eat, and maybe even would like a fax of the menu so they can plan what they're going to eat. The little-A adventure that bike touring affords is not for them, much less the big-A Adventure.

The self-supported tour comes in several flavors. The credit card tourers travel light and plan on sleeping with a roof over their heads each night. The next level involves carrying enough gear (sleeping bag, tent) for a bivouac in the great out of doors. In this respect, the credit card tourer is somewhat more of an adventurer, since they absolutely have to end up somewhere with lodging, while traveler type two can pretty much stop where the spirit moves them.

The adventure afforded by impromptu bike touring can sometimes raise the stress level, though. Susan came close to declaring a citizen's divorce on one trip to Ireland where we were contemplating the setting sun without having found lodgings. We did find a very nice hotel in the end, and marital bliss returned.

I'm definitely not interested in the Adventure trip, but I really enjoy the adventure part of cycle touring. It's interesting to compare the different tolerance to uncertainty in my family. Susan has less tolerance than I, and I definitely have less tolerance than my son, Colin. He and I were cycle touring in Ireland, and we found the town we were planning to stay in had a rather large festival that evening, and all the B&B's were booked. I was getting pretty upset, but Colin was taking it in his stride. And, sure enough, we rode a few miles out of town and found a very nice B&B run by a German couple.

I started a tour in Spain after an assignment there for work. I dropped off the rental car at the Madrid airport, and rode off into the sunset. I was about forty miles out of Madrid, and sunset was nigh, so I figured it was time to look for a place to stay. I had picked out one from the tourist guide, but when I got there, there was no room at the inn. Or so they said, although I did suspect that a scruffy, somewhat malodorous cyclist was not in their profile of an ideal guest. So I had pretty much convinced myself I would be sleeping in the train station, and had even picked out a bench, when I managed to find another place that had room.

Then there was the time my friend Peter and I did a bike tour of the Dominican Republic. As we were riding out of the airport, Peter was complaining of nasty noises coming from his rear wheel. Turned out to be a broken axle (Peter's idea of bicycle maintenance parallels mine, which can roughly be described as, if it ain't broke, wait till it is). I figured this was the end of the trip, since I really didn't think we were going to find a Shimano rear axle anywhere on the island. But I was wrong, we did in fact find the local bike repairman. His "shop" was more like a hut, with a tree covered with bicycle tires in the back yard. He produced a brand new Shimano hub and took it apart to sell us the axle. Not much of a businessman, but an awfully nice fellow.

Little Jack’s Corner was a column published in the CRW WheelPeople newsletter that Jack Donohue had written for more than 20 years. It is a humorous mixture of personal bicycling experiences and observations. This article is reprinted from WheelPeople June 1998. Photos were added.