There’s a little known sub culture populated by people who are riding their bicycles ‘round the world. It’s a pretty exclusive club. No one knows for sure how many are in it. There’s no membership roster and meetings are held ad-hoc at the sides of roads in far-flung places like Saigon, Mendoza and Whitefish.
I’ve been fortunate to be present at a few of these meetings. There was the one with Christophe on the rainy Oregon Coast where we discussed the pros and cons of the twenty-six-inch bicycle wheel. Then, I met with Andy, a member whom I ran into on a hilly road in Nepal and was coming from Bangladesh as I was heading to Butwal. Andy and I debated the various techniques for breaking in a Brooks leather saddle. We finally took a vote. It was a tie. And of course there was Francois, with whom I shared warm beers in a sweltering little hut outside Phnom Phen. Francois was just turning 50. He’d been a member of The Club for 19 years. A resolution to order more beers was proposed and passed.
In your own bicycle tour ‘round the world you’ll meet other cyclists who are out for a few days, weeks or months. You’ll know them by their spiffy, well-maintained bikes and neat, spotless gear. They’ll have nice hair and clean clothes. They’ll be friendly and talkative. They’ll offer to share their water and food. They will tell you about their lives. They’ll be doctors and lawyers and such. They will smell nice. They are Good People. They are nothing like the members of the ‘Round-The-World Club.
You rarely meet a ‘round-the-world cyclist going the same direction as you. Without fail, they’ll be heading to the place you just came from. Members of the ‘Round-The-World Club seem to always be going a different direction than just about everyone else. The Club has no official uniform, patch or logo but members are easy to spot if you know what to look for. Their bicycles will be scratched and rusty and ridiculously overloaded with gear hanging willy-nilly off both sides, the front and the rear.
The Member’s hair will be unkempt. Dreadlocks may be present. They will be suntanned or sunburned with chapped lips. Their clothes will be dirty. But mostly you can tell a Round-The-World Club member by the eyes. Of course they’ll be red, swollen and bloodshot from months or years of riding without sunglasses but there’ll be something else there, too, or rather there will be something not there that you see when you look into most people’s eyes these days.
There’s a standard agenda at these random ‘Round-The-World Club meetings and they always start out the same.
“Where are you coming from?”
“What’s the road like?”
“Any good places to camp?”
Once the formalities are taken care of the talk might get more personal. It might get around to what the other member did back in their old life, are they married, do they have kids. But the one question never asked is why. There’s no need. The answer is there in the eyes.