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A Fancy Suitcase

Can we talk about the less sexy parts of bike travel?

The internet is overflowing with mountain peaks in golden light and smiling scruffy faces in those far away places, with their dusty bikes and their greying beards and those ever deepening laughing lines. Bikepacking, bike touring, bike travel, they’re all incredible things. Ways to see the world and travel sustainably and meet people and make friends and open minds about what is possible with just the old bicycle lying around in grandpas old garage. I’ll try not to drone on. I love traveling by bike. I love climbing mountains and flying down the backside. I love the little jumps with a heavy bike. I love skids and wheelies. I love letting kids ride my bike and seeing them laugh and fall over and laugh some more. Odds are, I’ll never stop this. I’ve found my thing, and if you haven’t tried it yet I implore you to strap some bags to your bike and ride somewhere new. But there’s an aspect of bike travel we also overlook. 

A loaded bike is also just a really nice suitcase.

My Doggler currently has my clothes, my rain gear, my warm clothes, my swim trunks, my towel, a medical kit, a stove and gas, water bottles, water filter, an entire tool set with spare parts, an e-book, a computer, a camera kit, hard drive, a mini portable printer, 100 sheets of film, an entire pannier of food, a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, camp shoes and toiletries and a whole mess of other stuff. All together, it’s a LOT of stuff. For me, rolling around North Africa for a while, it’s everything I need to stay safe and warm and dry and healthy and moving. To carry all this in a suitcase would be such a pain in the ass, with the little plastic wheels doomed to break and the aching arm waiting to be swapped for the other aching arm dragging the heavy suitcase across the street. Suitcases are awful. Cumbersome and hard to use and inflexible. All it does it hold your stuff and make it harder to do so. The bicycle? It will hold all your stuff, AND THEN you can ride it!

The other day I finished my ride through the mountains. I wanted to go to a city in the valley before sunset. I was sat waiting at the bus station, they said it would be there within the hour. But it never came. They said I would have to take a taxi 50km to the next bus station. It looked quiet, a smooth highway descent out of the mountains and into the desert. With everything I have in tow, I ate a quick sandwich and just rode there. You can always ride.

The other day I left a home in the mountains I was staying at. They had a seperate room, with a key, that they had let me borrow. I was sad to leave, and debating spending another day with this sweet family in this small village anyways. But after three hours on the bike, I got a message from the son. “Do you have the key??” And I panicked and checked my pockets and there it was, in my pocket, prodding against my thigh as I pedaled and I never noticed. So I turned around, groaned, and at the same time saw a truck passing by. I stopped them, and the old men with the big smiles eagerly threw my bike on the back and brought me into the cab. We ate oranges together, and the old man in the passenger seat took a selfie with his tiny cell phone. I got back to the families house a bit earlier. We played football all night. This suitcase is also so nice because whenever you need to split, or get somewhere fast, or even this section sucks, you can always just throw it in a truck. 

A few weeks back we were riding in Spain, eating paella, paralleling the coast, drowning in sunshine by the sea and by snowstorms in the mountains. A friend from the internet, a guy I had always wanted to get to know a bit better, said he had some time off work. He wanted to go to Morocco to ride. I was going to take the ferry down a week later, but he said we have to go in three days, and fly there, and ride for 10 days, or nothing it all. I said “bet.” I found a cardboard box at a bike shop in Barcelona and 24 hours later was on another continent, listening to this foreign language, eating this different food. This magical suitcase of enjoyment goes on a plane whenever you choose, easily and cheap, granting another incredibly vast degree of freedom.

I’m currently sitting in Marrakesh, sitting in a cafe typing. It’s sunny out, the motorcycles are whipping by in their clouds of smog, I can hear birds, the call to prayer, laughter. The neighbors are fighting. I’m not sure why. I had tea and some bread. $1.50. My bicycle is in another city, left in the garage of a friend’s house. I had to jump on a flight to go renew my passport. I would return in four days I promised him. This suitcase you can lock up and abandon for a short while. I carry a mini folding backpack and lived out of that for a week. More freedom. Why else do it?

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