Luang Prabang Province, Laos

    “Before tourism there was travel, and before travel there was exploration... All three make journeys, but the explorer seeks the undiscovered, the traveler that which has been discovered by the mind working in history, the tourist that which has been discovered by entrepreneurship and prepared for him by the arts of mass publicity. The genuine traveler is, or used to be, in the middle between the two extremes. If the explorer moves towards the risks of the formless and the unknown, the tourist moves toward the security of pure cliche’. It is between these two poles that the traveler mediates, retaining all he can of the excitement of the unpredictable attaching to exploration, and fusing that with the pleasure of “knowing where one is” belonging to tourism. But travel is work. Before the development of tourism, travel was conceived to be like study...

    Let the tourist be cushioned against misadventure, your true traveler will not feel that he has had his money’s worth unless he brings back a few scars. Travel today [late 1970’s] would be to drive an aged automobile with doubtful tires through Roumania [sic] or Afghanistan without hotel reservations and to get by on terrible French. One who has hotel reservations and speaks no French is a tourist.”

Delightful! Though I suspect few, if any, cyclists realize it in those terms, it captures perfectly our motivation. Doubly so for the self-supported cycle tourist. (I suppose I should say cycle traveler.) Selecting a ride certainly involves study, whether through books or the internet or word of mouth. Then we set forth with only a map or cue sheet and a second-hand recommendation that yes, the ride is a good one. Underway we are out, in the environment, relying solely on ourselves for power. The tougher the climb, the more rewarding the descent. We are experiencing the journey as directly as possible. Indeed, at the end of a long day of climbing we are living the moment of travel with each and every crank rotation.

Contrast that to a car. With a car all hills are leveled, all weather is sheltered, and any hunger or thirst satiated with the next convenience store. A car is the very embodiment of Fussell’s tourism: insulated, cushioned, entirely predictable.

So it is, in these modern times and conditions, a bicycle is among the last instruments by which we can escape tourism and travel. Let us be grateful for it.