“Morning Sunshine, High Street”
“To have travelled a lot…is to this extent a disadvantage: At the age of thirty-five one needs to go to the moon, or some such place, to recapture the excitement with which one first landed at Calais.”
Evelyn Waugh, from “When The Going Was Good”
I’ve had a love affair with bicycles ever since I was a kid roaming the backroads of Carrol County New Hampshire on a Schwinn Varsity ten-speed, marvelling at this glorious ease and swiftness of motion and the almost aerial sense of liberation that came over me as I spun along the old river road down to the village. I could go anywhere.
And what’ more I knew that on a bicycle it would be a journey worth the taking. You didn’t need to be a poet to understand the difference between a trip to the village in the car and pedalling there yourself on your bike. One was twenty minutes of down time, life in suspension, and quickly forgotten, but the other could season an entire morning with sights and sensations, impressions and connections that could be teasing your imagination days later. And think: if just the five miles between our house and the village could be so vibrant and rich in possibility, imagine five hundred such miles or five thousand (!), pedalling out to where there were real tigers and date palms, camels in the caravanserai and smouldering volcanoes. Never did the world seem bigger, grander, richer in detail and riper for exploration. It made me giddy with anticipation just thinking about all the places I was going to go one day.
As things turned out I actually did grow up to see a lot of the world. Swept along by this same sense of wonder and curiosity, I became a journalist and photographer and have spent much of my adult life trotting the globe on behalf of one magazine or another. I’ve enjoyed it. I have been damned lucky to have seen as much of the world as I have, and at somebody else’s expense, and for that I’m grateful. But at the same time I’m also aware of a sense of loss, of a shrinking shopworn world and of travel having become an elaborate form of theatre: colourful, cloying but lacking the punch and verve of those original schoolboy jaunts down to the village or off to the Bearcamp River, fourteen miles away, fishpole in hand.
As I look back over the various means of travel that have seduced me over the years, I realise that only the bicycle has remained true. The thrill of gaining my driver’s license barely outlasted my teens and a few college road trips, while the prospect of going to an airport, once the very summit of glamour, is these days more like the halo before a migraine. Who wants to be corralled like sheep and treated like a criminal? Even the romance of taking the night train or embarking on a long sea voyage has turned out to be rather like the aroma of fresh-ground coffee – somehow the stuff always smells more tantalising than it tastes.
But fifty years down the track I can still climb aboard my bicycle and push off down the street with the same jaunty boundlessness and optimism I felt as a kid. As I work the pedals a marvellous shift in geography and scale takes place in my mind. The world spreads out around me, becomes big again. Miles regain their old true measure: fifteen becomes a distance to be reckoned with, while eighty might represent a full day’s travel, depending on wind and weather and hills. And each mile unfolds like a chapter in a story. I become immersed in it all. The old wonder and curiosity returns. And I start to speculate about all the grand things I’ll do someday when I grow up.
So here then, are my real travels. Every morning I set out before dawn and disappear for a while into this bigger, gentler, counterpane world and return feeling as travelled – more travelled, in fact – as if I had flown to the far side of the globe. It’s the perfect restorative to a world made small and mean and overfamiliar by too many frequent flier miles. Being a travel photographer I naturally bring along my camera. I hope you’ll find some things in here you like and, perhaps, be inspired to take to the road yourself.
My Bicycle (s)…
I have three – all old friends, steel-framed tourers with drop bars, Brooks saddles and old-fashioned flat pedals. The oldest is a Thorn eXp expedition tourer which is starting to look its age now after about 80,000 miles or so of hard riding in places as far afield as Orkney, Istanbul and Zanzibar. My second is a classic randonneur, built for me by Mark Reilly, now of Reilly Bikes, a good friend and a brilliant frame-maker. With its ornate lugs and cream tyres it is the most photogenic of my bikes. The third is not strictly speaking a tourer, but rather a classic lugged-steel road bike built for me by the late Dario Pegoretti. It’s a Luigino, a style he built as a tribute to the great Italian builders of the 50s, when touring and racing were often done on the same bikes. It is magic on hills. It doesn’t appear in my photographs because when I go out on that one, I tend to leave the weighty cameras behind and instead go looking for hills for the sheer joy of flying up them.
As for me, I’m a magazine writer and photographer who specalises in travel, culture, archaeology and history – although I have covered just about everything in my time. For the past twenty-three years I’ve been a regular contributor to National Geographic – in that time writing more than twenty major magazine features and countless smaller stories, and winning numerous awards along the way. I’ve also contributed to several ‘coffee table’ books for the Society’s books division and wrote National Geographic Traveler’s Travel Guide to Australia. I’ve also lectured, conducted workshops and led tours for the National Geographic Society’s travel program.
My work has also appeared in Time, Newsweek, Nature, NPR, Islands, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet Traveler, Smithsonian, Australian Geographic and National Geographic Adventure.
My photography website can be viewed here
Over the years my career has taken me to more than 100 countries and to every continent. I have written two travel books – Life on The Ice, about my travels in Antarctica, and Cold Beer & Crocodiles, about my 10,000-mile cycling odyssey I made through the Australian outback, the story of which originally appeared as an award-winning three-part series in National Geographic Magazine.