Editor’s Note: Yeah, we like bikes. But our obsession for the velocipede goes beyond the obvious. This week, in the Thought Kitchen, friend, freelance writer and fellow rider, Ellee Thalheimer echoes yet another reason why we trade in four wheels for two—to experience something far better than cruise control and heated seats.
By Ellee Thalheimer
Throughout the wind-thrashed land of Argentina’s Pampa, the remote, bustling hamlets became ghost towns for three hours every afternoon. After the siesta, everyone from leathery-skinned cowboys to laughing women in designer jeans would huddle in groups sipping yerba mate from a communal gourd and metal straw.
On this trip and many others, my secret tool to bridge the cultural divide and nose my way into the heart of another culture was my massively loaded bicycle. At car checkpoints, Argentine police officers would invite me to share a mate, and curious onlookers approached me as a fascinating—and possibly off-my-rocker—oddity.
They wanted to know where I was from, where I was going, how far I’d come, and how many miles per day I rode. That inquisitiveness enabled me to ask intimate questions and wiggle my way into some pretty stellar conversations and cultural understanding.
People’s curiosity in exotic places like Argentina, interestingly enough, is not all that different than at home. Crossing over the West Hills, just outside of metro Portland, Oregon, the culture subtly changes; there are slight differences in how people talk to each other, variant political signs in front yards, and deviations in restaurant menus.
A bicycle, with bags slung all over it, seldom fails to pique folk’s interest, even if they are used to cyclists. So the rural Oregonian with a gun rack chats with the Portland cyclist toting Kombucha in a non-toxic metal bottle.
The bicycle ends up building a link between diverse people who might never have interacted. And when folks from disparate cultures connect and learn about each other, empathy is born, and the world becomes a better place. A two-wheeled device all of the sudden accomplishes more than anyone would have ever expected.
Elle is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her past work includes Cycling Italy and contributions to the Lonely Planet editions of Mexico, USA, Caribbean Islands and Pacific Northwest guidebooks. Learn more about cycle touring in Oregon in her new guidebook: Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-day Tours in Oregon by checking out her website www.cyclingsojourner.com. And stay tuned for her upcoming venture: Hop in the Saddle: A Guide to Portland’s Craft Beer Scene, By Bike available in November.