I love reading books about those brave souls who travel the world on a bicycle. Most “adventure cycling” books have a similar style, i.e., they trace the route of some cyclist and tell you about the challenges they faced and the beautiful scenery they passed along the way. Travels With Willie, Adventure Cyclist is different—it is a collection of stories by Willie Weir that covers a lifetime of cycling on six continents. This book serves as an inspiration to those timid folks who want to see the world, but don’t want to take any chances.
Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine, and a well-known writer, photographer, and public speaker. Weir has traveled the world in a way that most people would seek to avoid—riding on a bike during the day and sleeping in barns, train stations, police stations, or setting up a tent in the backyard of people he has just met. Weir does not describe himself as an “avid cyclist,” but as “an avid traveler who has discovered that cycling is the best way to see the world.” He encourages people to skip the (usually wasted) years of learning a foreign language and just pick a country, pack your bike, and go! Yes, you probably need to learn how to say “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “How much?,” but most people around the world are willing to help a foreign traveler if you will just give them a chance.
As one who has had the opportunity to travel a good portion of the world, I sincerely appreciate what Weir is trying to do in his book, i.e., to get people to move out of their comfort zone and see the world without the constraints of an itinerary that has been carved into stone. When most Americans travel overseas they seem to see the same sites, eat in the same restaurants, and take the same photographs as everyone else. By traveling the back roads Weir was able to ride his bike to “roadside restaurants that haven’t seen a foreigner in years, to local festivals not listed and recommended in the Lonely Planet, to the shade of a tree shared with local school kids, to a police station or a monastery and a safe place to sleep.”
Every time I get ready to travel overseas I have well-meaning friends who try to talk me out of going because they heard on the news “that things are getting really dangerous over there” (regardless of where “there” happens to be). Weir offers this bit of sage advice: just ask people this one little question, “Have you been there?” If they haven’t been there then they don’t have a clue about the situation in some other country. I live in the far-north suburbs of Chicago and have never been to a city in the Middle East that was more dangerous than the Windy City. Yes, the world can be a dangerous place, but probably not as dangerous as any big city in America. If you wait till the time is perfect for overseas travel you are never going to go anywhere. In Travels With Willie Weir tells you lessons he has learned from people all over the world—people in Cuba, Colombia, Turkey, Bosnia, Thailand and many places in-between.
My admiration for Weir really increased when he described how he and his wife rode their bikes up to the top of Mt. Nemrut in southeastern Turkey. Mt. Nemrut is a World Heritage site and a monument built by King Antiochus around 50 B.C. (he was a megalomaniac of the highest order). I visited Mt. Nemrut a few years ago with two of my friends, but we ascended the mountain in a small van and it took several hours to make our way to the top. Unbelievably, Weir and his wife rode to the top of the mountain on their bikes and then spent the night there—I truly envy them—not for the pain they endured on the way up, but for them being able to be there the following morning as the sun came up over one of the most fascinating places on earth!
Travels With Willie retails for $15 in the paperback version, and for $10 on the Kindle. While you can order this book from Amazon.com, I would suggest you buy it directly from the author (he offers free shipping for orders within the U.S.). Even if you never take you bike outside of the town you live in, you will learn a lot about the world and maybe this will encourage you to get a Passport and start using it!