Willie Weir: confessions of an adventure cyclist
[Published in the September/October 2009 issue of Momentum: the magazine for self-propelled people.]
Bicycle traveler’s new book describes experiences, not logistics
“I am not an avid cyclist,” admits Willie Weir in his new book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist, “I am an avid traveler who has discovered that cycling is the best way to see the world.”
Weir is an award-winning writer, radio commentator and advocate in Seattle who has cycled over 60,000 miles around the globe. He writes a column about living and traveling by bicycle for Adventure Cyclist, a colorful magazine mailed to members of the nonprofit, Montana-based Adventure Cycling Association.
True to the association’s mission to “inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle for fitness, fun, and self-discovery,” Weir’s writing describes the experience of riding a bicycle rather than the logistics. His new book is a collection of his columns, and nowhere in the paperback’s pages does this seasoned bicycle traveler even mention mileage, equipment, routes or the type of bike he rides.
Instead, Weir describes facing fear and finding adventure; guardian angels and going the wrong way; the kindness of strangers; communicating without a word; and the privilege of travel.
Like any journey, the book begins and ends at home: plucking up the courage to leave for your first trip, and reshuffling your priorities when you return so you can take your next one. In between, Weir ponders – in a light-hearted way – on the people, places and perspectives he encounters.
He returns to the themes of adventure, risk and reward frequently and marvels that at the center of it all is the bicycle, “one of the last innocent forms of transportation… that has managed to roll through history with its wholesome image unscathed.”
“Don’t overplan,” he urges the first-time traveler, “Trips are planned. Adventure is what happens when the plan takes a detour.” In a chapter called “The Fear Factor,” Weir distinguishes between “caution” which is active, seeks to solve problems and more forward and “fear” which is passive, lies in the pit of your stomach and festers. “Caution keeps you aware. Fear keeps you away.”
In a chapter I could relate to titled “The Bad Road,” the bike traveler confesses that the best way to get him to go somewhere is to tell him that he shouldn’t. In Turkey local men pointed to a tempting looking road on a map and told Weir and his wife, “Bad road, bad.” The surface was rough, the grades steep, and the road narrow. Perfect for bicycles, bad for cars and trucks.
It reminded me of my first big bike trip: every time I shared my intention to solo cycle Thailand, my friends and colleagues responded with a mixture of admiration and alarm. “Oh, I could never do that,” they’d say, “What if something bad happens? What if you get sick, or worse?”
“Well,” I learned to respond, “I’ll come home knowing I gave it a try.” In fact, over the duration of my trip so many good things happened that I returned home absolutely hooked.
Weir and I laughed about this in a telephone conversation and he related that he’s often invited to speak about cycling at schools. “I’m not a safety guy,” he joked, “I’m a motivation guy.”
He stressed how important cycling magazines such as Momentum are to kids and he’s trying to get Adventure Cyclist in school libraries where kids can see it and be inspired.
“Kids see hundreds of thousands of commercials of automobiles, but no images of bicycles. We’re affected by what’s around us, and the cover of a magazine can have an impact. If kids can see a bicycle magazine when they’re at an age when they start dreaming, they might just think, ‘I can do that too.’”
Weir admits that though he’s traveled other countries by bike, his own “a-ha” moment came when he “got rid of” his car several years ago.
“It made me slow down,” said Weir, “Everything became an urban adventure, and adventure is in everyday errands.” He’s learning to have “a traveler’s eyes” in his own city, and encourages urban cyclists to stay pure to the spirit of adventure. “The moment life becomes routine,” says Weir, “a filter takes over and mundane tasks cloud our interaction with our place.”
“I like to say, ‘Americans are good at leading busy lives, but not necessarily good at leading full lives.’”
Read Willie Weir’s travel blog, request a book, or contact him for speaking engagements at www.willieweir.com. In addition to publishing Adventure Cyclist, magazine, The Adventure Cycling Organization (www.adventurecycling.org) also connects cyclists through membership, provides trip planning and education, and supports bike advocacy projects such as the U.S. Bicycle Route System.