What to ask a long-distance cyclist

In a previous post called “10 things not to ask a long-distance cyclist“, I listed down the things I get asked more frequently when on the road. After having heard the same questions over and over again, I started thinking to myself what kind of questions would I love to answer? As I stay with locals nearly every night, I sometimes wish we could just jump through the basic questions and speak about other things instead. So, here are some suggestions on what to ask a long-distance cyclist, if you don’t want to go with the basics. Below, my answers.

Disclaimer: I’m very aware that whilst to me the questions are always the same, this might be the first time ever that a host encounters a long-distance cyclist. So, neither this nor my previous post are hate talk towards those who ask me questions! They are merely the thoughts of someone who wished she didn’t always have to start a conversation with the same subjects.

What are you most afraid of on your trip?
For sure men. During the 14 months I’ve spent on the road, nothing has ever happened to me and I’m hopeful that nothing also will. However, I still occasionally get that strike of fear when staying in all-male surroundings as a solo traveling female.

What has been the best/worst day for you?
There have been more beautiful days than I can count, but perhaps one of the best feelings was right in the very beginning of my trip: after cycling against the freezing headwinds of Patagonia, me and a fellow cyclist were invited to stay in the abandoned building of a private farm. There, we were not only safe from the cold, but we were also offered dinner and breakfast with the workers of the farm.

As for the worst day…this was also in Argentina, but this time in the Pampa. It was a day when I first lost my ID and credit card, then fell, hurting my elbow and knee and ruining the brakes of my bike, and later had my saddle cover twitch between my chains and gears, resulting to twisted chains and my rear derailleur falling off…As all this happened just before nightfall in the middle of nowhere, I decided to hitchhike to the nearest town. The ride I got was a motorcycle, which toed me and my bike at the speed of 50kms/hour…

What kind of people have you met during your trip?
Amazing, kind, warm-hearted people. If someone actually asked me this, I would have lots of wonderful stories to tell! Here are some examples: the amazing, Family Gonzalez, loads of lovely Argentinians, a spiritual tribe leader in Brazil, a graffiti artist in Paraguay…

What kind of feelings does cycling awake in you?
All kinds, really. Sometimes freedom, sometimes frustration, sometimes love, sometimes hate. It’s a wide range of feelings that go through your mind and body when traveling like this for a long time.

How is cycling different from how you used to live?
It’s not very different, as I work even when cycling. However, the real big difference is that all outer factors change nearly every day. Landscapes, people, weather…There’s still a lot of routine to cycling, but my life in Finland isn’t so full of constant change as it is on the road.

What is cycling in hot/cold/rain/mountains like?
This is a question I’d like to hear and answer after a hot/cold/rainy/mountainous day. I’d like to describe fresh feelings of how it felt. At the moment I’m sitting comfortably in a room with a table, so let’s leave this one for later.

How do you cope with always leaving?
This is a difficult one. I get attached to people and places very easily, and I’m definitely not a master of leaving. However, I’ve written a blog post on how I cope with it, so if interested in knowing more, here it is.

What have you learned on the road?
Many things. Small, practical things like how to plant a certain plant or how to cut glass bottles…I’ve become more fluent in Spanish…I’ve learned about different customs like that of mate and tereré. And I’ve learned that most people in this world are good at heart.

What is your personal goal on the journey?
To learn about different cultures and to share what I learn. Also, to enjoy. No one has forced me to cycle and I also won’t force myself. If one day I realize I’m not enjoying it anymore, I’ll quit or at least hitchhike until I feel like cycling again.

Have you ever had a moment when you felt like quitting? When, why?
I have. During the past years, I’ve had wonderful projects back in Finland, so I often struggle with whether I should go back and focus on them or cycle on. For the time being I still go with cycling on and hope the projects (or other ones) will still be there when I go back.

Personal hygiene and food rule!

Although most cyclists are pretty self sufficient as far as stoves, food, camping gear and water go, the following questions are still definitely music to the ears after a long and heavy day of cycling. The difference to the previous ones is that they’re not conversation openers, but I’m quite sure most cyclists will still be happy to hear them.

Would you like something to eat/drink?
Yes! No cyclist who comes to your house/yard/restaurant/shop is expecting you to give them anything. However, every time someone does (especially if it’s food or fresh water), it feels like a present from heaven.

Would you like to wash some clothes?
Yes! After cycling from more than 100kms, there are always clothes to wash. Be it just a pair of socks and a t-shirt, but there always is something.

Would you like to take a shower?
Yes! When it’s cold, there’s nothing like a warm shower. When it’s hot, there’s nothing like a cold shower. In general, there’s nothing like a shower after a day of cycling.

Would you like to use the wifi?
Yes! This might not be true to all long-distance cyclists, but I personally love keeping in touch with my friends and family every time I have the chance to. When I cycle, my mind nearly explodes with ideas, so wifi is one thing that lets me uncharge those thoughts.

Would you like to rest?
Yes! I love being invited to local houses instead of sleeping in my tent every night. I also love speaking to the people who have invited me, and sharing stories with them. Yet, after cycling for the whole day, a cyclist really NEEDS to rest. If the weather outside is hot, he/she might want to start cycling right at dawn. Therefore, having dinner and beers at 11pm (normal dinner time in Argentina), going for a digestive walk in the city and visiting local sights at 1am are just not on the “must do” list. However, rest is.

Would you like some food for the road?
Yes! There’s never too much food. Not unless it’s raw mangos or avocados that still need three weeks to mature. In that case the food might not be received with too much enthusiasm (weight is a curse for a long-distance cyclist). But if it’s something like bananas, peanuts or bread with cheese and vegetables, I’d love some!

Anything else? All you long-distance cyclists out there, please add and comment!

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.