When cycling, you get asked a lot of questions. In fact, every long-distance cyclist would probably want to bang the askers in the head from time to time. Not because of the people or the questions themselves, but just because as time goes by, you answer the same questions over and over again (sometimes 5-10 times daily). And the longer your trip, the more times you do so (on a year-long trip, you’ll probably do it at least 365 times). So, to spare us (and your head from getting hurt), here’s what not to ask a long-distance cyclist. And if you’re dying to know the answers, here they are as well!

1. How many kilometers do you do per day?
It depends on the day: my condition, my mood, how well I’ve slept, if I have a place to sleep in a certain place or not etc. It depends on the weather: with headwinds everything’s much slower and more tiring than with tailwinds. Rain can slow you down, snow can slow you down. If the sun is burning hot, you might want to take more breaks. It depends on the terrain: cycling in the mountains is slower and more tiresome than cycling on flat ground. Cycling on dirt roads is slower than cycling on asphalt etc…So the simple answer is: it depends.

2. What do you do if you have a flat tire?
I patch it.

3. What do you do when it rains?
I cycle on or I wait until the rain stops.

4. What made you go and cycle?
This answer is different for each one of us. Mine is that I wanted to cycle on a continent where I can communicate with locals in a common language. I wanted to see Latin America and write about it. I can’t climb at the moment, so I figured cycling is the next best option. I haven’t abandoned a certain job or lifestyle, this is what I want to do now but not forever.

5. What do you have in your bags?
This answer is also different for each long-distance cyclist. In my panniers I have: clothes for all kinds of weather conditions, a tent, a sleeping bag, an inflatable mattress, food and an alcohol stove for cooking, medicine, hygiene products, a camera and a computer to write these posts. Here more specifically.

6. Aren’t you cold/hot?
Of course I am. I’m a human being just like you are.

7. Aren’t you tired after so much cycling?
See answer above. (Oh, and since the answer is ‘yes’, I probably won’t want to go on a bike ride on my day off. It’s like asking an ultramarathon runner to go for a marathon on his only rest day!)

8. Why don’t you take a bus to…?
This question is an interesting one. People will always recommend a bus for you to cross the Ruta del Desierto, the Andes, The Chaco Paraguayo etc. “It’s too difficult”, or “there’s nothing there”, are phrases that you just have to get used to when speaking with non-cyclists. The thing is, a cyclist probably won’t take a bus or hitch a ride simply out of recommendation. He/she might do so, but only if he/she doesn’t feel like cycling. There’s a reason it’s called long-distance cycling.

9. What happens if you’re caught in the middle of the night?
Do you know when the sun sets in your region? Well guess what? So do I! Nightfall is not something unpredictable that just happens out of the blue. You can calculate where you’ll be; if you should stop, cycle on, whatever. And if everything still goes wrong, I personally carry a tent with me. In the middle of nowhere, I wild camp. In cities I couchsurf (I haven’t used warmshowers because when I stay still, I often love to meet non-cyclists). In small towns and in the countryside I’m often invited to local houses. If not, I sleep at road tolls, fire departments, police stations, gas stations…Some cyclists love to be alone, I enjoy sleeping where there are people around. Until now, I haven’t slept in hostels or hotels, but that time might come. In general, I haven’t yet paid for accommodation.

10. Where and what do you eat?
I carry food with me: oat flakes, soy, dried and fresh fruit, seeds, pasta and canned beans. Sometimes I use my alcohol stove to cook myself a warm meal, often I just eat some oat flakes and soy with water (if you wish, I can write a cookbook after this trip). In cities and towns, I often buy food on the street.

THE most common ONE to a female cyclist:

Aren’t you afraid?
Yes, sometimes I am. Somtimes I’m afraid of wild animals and snakes. Sometimes of trucks and traffic. Sometimes of descents. Sometimes of the dark. Sometimes of men. But most of the time, I’m not. I’ve simply figured I can’t be scared all the time. It would make no sense!

Strangerless comments:

As for the variations to questions in different Latin American countries: in Argentina it’s not uncommon for people to ask about your age (thing which in Europe is considered rude…no idea why). In Brazil, many people ask you about your faith in God. In Paraguay people wanted to know how many times you’ve been married and whether you have children (this is also where I was told that at the age of 34 it’s already too late for me to have them…). Now, I’m in Argentina again and looking forward to another cyclist joining me for a stretch, so we can alternate between who gets to answer all the questions!

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.