topics: pretrip travel and preparation

[Ethan's Notes | Padraic's Notes | andrEa's Notes | Corinne's Notes | Anthony's Notes]

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: September 25, 1997

picture of Ethan

Dear Friends and Fellow Mediterranean Travelers,

Today is the day we begin our journey around the Mediterranean! We are on a ferry click to view a photograph right now, making the trip from Algeciras, the city in southern Spain from which our boat has departed, to Ceuta, the city governed by Spain but located on the Moroccan coast. map icon We are also about to travel between continents, from Europe to Africa! This is the first time that some of us have been to Africa and there is an energy in the air.

Every day (or as often as possible) we will write about the people we meet, the places we go, the sites and sounds we see and hear, the foods we taste and smell, and the emotions we feel. As you know, it will be an exciting process that takes us through Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France, and Spain (skipping only Algeria, Libya, and Yugoslavia), as well as some of the Mediterranean islands (Malta, Cyprus, and Rhodes) that are scattered throughout the region. We are thrilled that you have decided to come with us, to hop on your cyber-bicycle and pedal along with us, to take advantage of the technology we are using so that you can see, hear, and imagine touching, tasting, and smelling everything that we will. The nine months ahead will be full of adventure and challenges. We are confident that everyone is prepared.

Tomorrow night we will do our best to send information about our experiences of the very first day. We hope you will understand that on some days it will be impossible for us to make an Internet connection; however, we will do everything we can so that the news you receive is always fresh.

But before we begin with the daily journals, we want to share the story about some of the trials and tribulations we experienced during the past week: the assembly of the Wheeler bicycles we received in Paris, the transport of the bicycles and some of the BikeAbout riders to Barcelona, the gathering of the whole BikeAbout team in Barcelona, and then the group trip from Barcelona to Algeciras. It has certainly already been interesting.

Bike Assembly

picture of Padraic

After a few days of anxious waiting in Paris, we finally got the call: Our brand-new Wheeler bicycles had arrived! All we had to do was to go to Maison du Vélo (French for "House of Bicycles"), a bike shop, to assemble them. Since we were in Paris, we decided to do as the Parisians do — make all the hard work into a party. As soon as the bike shop closed we took over the work area, turned on our stereo, spread out our picnic dinner, and began putting the bikes together. click to view a photograph By the time we installed our spanking new Selle Royal saddles and Tubus racks, adjusted all the brakes and cables, and fine-tuned the gears, it was already 1 a.m.! It didn't matter though. We were finally Mediterranean-ready. Little did we suspect our hardest bicycle-related work lay ahead of us — we had to figure out how to get the bikes down to Spain.

Want to know what we're carrying in our packs and trailers?
bulletandrEa's Packing List
bulletAnthony's Packing List
bulletCorinne's Packing List
bulletEthan's Packing List
bulletPadraic's Packing List

TALGO to Barcelona

picture of Anthony

At this point we still had one rider in NYC (Ethan), one in Barcelona at the VeloCity conference (andrEa), and three in Paris with five bikes, two B.O.B.s (Beasts of Burden — our bike trailers), three sets of bicycle panniers, and three equipment bags. It was decided that we would all gather in Barcelona and then as a group head further down the Mediterranean coast to the ferry to Morocco. We decided that our best option would be to sneak all the equipment into a sleeping compartment on an overnight train to Barcelona. This was in many ways the hardest and the easiest option we had. The train we took was the TALGO, one of the best Spanish trains. The compartments are nice, so nice that the train is called a "Train Hotel." Our compartment had 4 beds (real beds with sheets pillows and blankets) and a wash basin (with hot water! — something we might not see at all in Morocco). The beds folded up into seats or down into beds.

The problem were size and stealth: size because the compartment was no more than 1.5 meters wide, 2.4 meters tall, and two meters deep. This might sound large but remember we had five bikes in boxes, each about 1.75 meters long, one meter high, and 20 centimeters wide and weighing 15 kilos, not to mention everything else. Our other problem was stealth, since the TALGO is such a nice train that each train car has a conductor. So we showed up at the train an hour early in the hopes of getting to the train before the conductor arrived. No such luck. Padraic and Anthony showed up at the train car with one B.O.B., two bikes and about half the luggage. There we met Diego, the conductor. He was in his late 50s, spoke a little English, good French, but in reality was Spanish. So we started in English, toyed with Spanish, and then, once he got excited, everything was in rapid-fire French. We did not want to overwhelm him with everything so Corinne and a friend, Paul Kloppenberg, hid with the rest of the baggage behind a pillar. Once Diego saw us with the bike boxes he started to shake his head. "NO NO NO NO!!" he kept on saying, while Anthony kept on talkingandtalkingandtalking. Anthony finally got through to him that we had reservations for all the beds in the compartment and that it did not matter whether we slept or not. We just needed to get all the equipment to Barcelona. Diego kept on saying, "This is not allowed! This is not permitted! This is not possible!" and Anthony kept on talkingandtalkingandtalking.

But we insisted. So Diego started a routine of saying "I see nothing!" (Je ne vois rien!) and he would turn away while we loaded the boxes. We started piling bikes in. It was tight, very tight. It was like being inside of a puzzle and trying to figure out where the pieces go. About the time we succeeded, Paul and Corinne showed up with the rest of the bikes and boxes and Diego went ballistic again. He yelledandyelledandyelled and Anthony talkedandtalkedandtalked and Diego continued his "I see nothing, I hear nothing, I do nothing." Diego was a really great guy, though. He could have kicked us off at anytime with just cause and once we had everything on he even stopped by to see if we needed anything. In the end everything fit. Although, we had to use two of the beds for storage and put one of the mattresses on the floor so we all had a bed.

Being inside the compartment was like being in a little cave. There was also this sort of boxy echo when we talked, but the door could shut and we were happy. Even if it was a tight fit. We had picked up dinner in Paris before leaving. We had bread, paté, three different cheeses, veggies, fruit, and a sack o' pastries. In the morning we arrived in Barcelona, safe and sound, and embarked on yet another adventure.


picture of andrEa

While all this was going on, andrEa left for Spain from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, waving "baba" to her beloved ONW bluebike. On the one hand, it was sad to leave the bike behind, but, on the other, a relief to not have to carry gear and a bike with her own two hands on three trains through four countries to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia in the eastern part of Spain. andrEa was supposed to meet ALL the BikeAbouters in Barcelona, but they were delayed, so she stuffed her things into a locker and then checked a few sites click to view a photograph click to view a photograph before going to the venue of the VeloCity conference. "The world's premier conference on cycling in all its aspects," the VeloCity conference was taking place at the Casa de Caritat, right in the center of Barcelona.

VeloCity was initiated by the European Cyclists Federation ( in cooperation with the local, absolutely cool, Amics de la Bici or Friends of the Bicycle ( of Barcelona. andrEa immediately contacted Daniel Eritja of Amics de Bici and enjoyed a discussion on bike philosophy. "So niCe!" By the time the other BikeAbouters had arrived she was ready with a full report of all the happenings. The interesting projects she found there — the unofficial shortcuts for cyclists and pedestrians — and how to make them official . . . come later, this night !!!

On to Ceuta

picture of Corinne

In order to get to Ceuta, we had to pack the bags and B.O.Bs, ride to the station, unpack, and take the bikes apart again (for the third time)! Of course, after the trip from Paris we were getting used to this — so few trains will take bikes as is. The BikeAbout caravan through Barcelona (many, many heads turned) brought us to the station on time, but the train we wanted to Algeciras was full! So: Plan B. We reassembled and reloaded the bikes, saddled up, and returned to the Hamsa (the squat in which we had been invited to stay while in Barcelona). After another fun day in Barcelona the group rode back to the station to board an overnight train to Bobadilla. click to view a photograph We arrived at 7 a.m. the next morning . . . with only 90 seconds to toss our luggage, disassembled bikes, and sleepy selves off the train. The moon and stars were still out. After assembling our bikes in the light of the rising sun click to view a photograph, we took the next train to the busy port city of Algeciras. click to view a photograph There we checked into a hotel, took COLD showers (we have to get used to these) and set off to buy ferry tickets for the trip to Ceuta in Africa. click to view a photograph

We also needed to find somewhere to make an Internet connection. Wandering on foot, speaking Spanglish (with A LOT of body language), andrEa and Corinne discovered the computer shop Futura. The owner was so kind and so interested in our project, he let us use two Internet lines for free! Our daily Internet session completed, we turned in late, exhausted from another long day, knowing that the next day in Ceuta — and most of the next nine months — would hold a similar agenda.

Away we go . . .

Ethan's Notes

picture of Ethan More than two years ago, while sitting in a Mexican restaurant and sharing with friends ideas about dreams we hoped to accomplish, one friend mentioned a bicycle trip around the Mediterranean. It was not something I had ever considered, but it became something I could not get out of my mind. Ever since, I have worked with incredible people to make this all an unbelievable reality. I hope, over the next nine months, to learn about the cultures of the places we visit. I am very interested in culture and how it can affect the way people communicate. I will be talking about this and answering questions as we travel through the Mediterranean.

Questions? Ask Ethan!

Padraic's Notes

picture of Padraic When Ethan suggested the ride around the Mediterranean, I was skeptical. I tried to explain to him that he was nuts. Now, as I'm riding the ferry to Africa, I'm still not sure of Ethan's sanity, but I agree with him that this is an exciting project. What lies ahead of us is daunting: nine months, three continents, 17 countries, 10,000 miles, not to mention the numerous languages and dozens of separate cultures. But now I look at our adventure as a sort of field trip — OK, one that lasts nine months instead of an afternoon. Instead of reading about these places and their histories, I'll be experiencing them firsthand, gathering notes, materials, and experience with which to make teaching both more interesting and more fun. I will be pointing out the "living" history and answering questions about history and politics as we make our way round the Mediterranean. (Click the camera icon to see a picture of Padraic writing his journal report.
click to view a photograph Any time you see this icon in a journal page, you can click on it to see a picture.)

Questions? Ask Padraic!

andrEa's Notes

picture of andrEa I'm so glad that the hard time of preparation for the adventure is now over (though it was a long time coming) and I'm now at the Moroccan border. The essential change is that I'm not alone anymore, organizing for takeoff from my end of the planet. Now we're doing all this together in the same place and the same real time. My bike is losing its anonymity as I started shaping it with stickers and it shaped me with different shifting experiences. Today is the first day we'll sit on our bikes, rolling to Tangiers, living our goal — learning 'bout us and our environment in a very direct way, sharing what we collect as we move along. Roaming the virtual world is an interesting and definitely challenging endeavor, but hitting the road on two wheels, working together with people I've chosen myself — no coincidence but friends! — makes my life a happy one. The sun is shining, the morning coffee was OK, the tires are pumped, and the street is smooth ---------- can't wait to GO!

Questions? Ask Andrea!

Corinne's Notes

picture of Corinne This is my first bike tour — ever. What does this mean? The entire world of possibility is in front of me. Hopefully the camera and computers and bikes will tolerate nine months of use and abuse on the road, and continue to serve us well, but it's a long time for anyone or anything to withstand. I know to expect a very sore butt and legs, and to continue to explore these places in the way I like best, but the rest is wide open. Traveling in North Africa and the Middle East is all new as well, so I'm pretty curious to see how I do, how BikeAbout does in its quest, and how we are received — so far all of the above are fairly positive! Our collective resourcefulness is and will be our strongest asset, I think, and if we keep that, it's all we need. Well, that and a few hot baths, a massage or two, and LOTS of stretching . . .

Questions? Ask Corinne!

Anthony's Notes

picture of Anthony Finally we are on the road. Life becomes so much simpler once we will finally be able to start putting some kilometers behind us. The worst day touring, you basically still wake up, get on a bike and ride — honestly how bad can that be? No trains, train officials, boat schedules, or officials to deal with. When I was asked to be a part of the BikeAbout team the first thought I had was weight . . . . Bicycle touring for me decreases in fun proportionate to the amount of stuff we have to carry. I thought five computers (eight pounds each) plus spare parts, electronic gear, books, etc. would be quite a burden. We decided to take only four computers, so that helped, but along the way we picked up five Casio digital cameras, a video camera, and some more extras, but in the end I think that we have done well — a little heavy but not too bad.

Frankly, I am just happy to be on the road. After all the letter writing, asking for sponsorship and equipment, countless faxes, phone calls, and emails, we are finally here in North Africa minutes from actually doing some riding. I am most looking forward to the mix of cultures that we are going to be cycling through these next nine months and Morocco is a perfect place to start. With its mix of Arab, European, and African cultures, Morocco is the closest African country to Europe both in terms of distance and in many ways in terms of culture. Yet Morocco has its own unique identity, closely tied to its past, present, and future. I am looking forward to experiencing this culture both from two wheels and from two feet, absorbing as much as I can and relating these experiences to those who are following us via the Internet.

Questions? Ask Anthony!

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