There are many forms of travel from flights to go slow with long stays in places. Today’s travel blogger interview features a travelling cyclist who also camps or sleeps rough most places he goes. This provides a fascinating perspective on travel. Please meet Thomas Boughton of Black Dog Bicycling.
What is your name?
Which country do you come from/call home?
Are you a backpacker/long term traveller/business traveller/live and work abroad?
I’m a bicycle tourer.
Would you describe yourself as a cyclist?
I really wouldn’t. No more than a person who goes on a road trip would call themselves a driver. I enjoy the childlike glee of zooming downhill but the bicycle is really a means to an end. It provides an elegant solution to the desire to see the world freely and on my own terms. To not have to wait or hurry to an external schedule.
Where do you stay each night?
About 70% of the time I will wild camp. That is to say I will find a discrete place and either pop the tent or just lay down the sleeping mat. There is a tremendous sense of security that comes with the sure knowledge that if you keep on peddling you will eventually find a place to sleep that night. It has also led to some wonderfully memorable nights sleeping in unique and beautiful spots. Other times its led to sleeping in ditches and damp abandoned buildings but even those I now remember fondly. Another 20% is spent staying with kind hosts. Usually these are from the Warmshowers cyclist hospitality community, sometimes from invitations offered along the way. Its wonderful to get a warm shower and some in depth conversation after a week of camping and riding alone. The final 10% is spent in hostels and campgrounds and the usual cheap travel accommodation.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)?
Savings, a small passive rental income and by spending very little.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
I was fortunate to have parents who loved travel. One formative trip at the age of 10 was to visit my godfather in Hawaii. He was in charge of the observatory there and so I spent a blissful month climbing volcanoes, watching lava flow into a boiling sea, peering through telescopes and playing on black sand beaches when not trying to swim with turtles and moray eels.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Stood on the banks of the river Aras about to cross the border I was nervous. Somehow I had absorbed by the negative portrayals in the media. I was expecting Islamic fundamentalism, suspicion, mullahs and sandy deserts. Instead I found vast hospitality, a sophisticated tech-savy population desperate to correct the negative stereotypes that they are subject to and highly and openly critical of the regime. A snowy Tehran backed by the Elburz mountains could not have been further from the ignorant middle eastern picture I had formed.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
Sleeping on a beautiful beach just south of Viareggio, Italy I awoke at 04:00 am and could just make out the silhouette of a man standing above me in the dark. I sat up and he started running, which was when I realized he had cut the cord I had tied between my valuables bag and wrist. I jumped up and gave chase in just my pants but after a kilometer or two I was just following footprints. Passport, phone, all my money, bank cards, glasses, suntan cream, notebook from three months of travel and a lot more had just disappeared into the night. The police were predictably unhelpful so I found myself with the 9 euros that had been in my pocket and not a lot else.
Do you have any funny travel stories?
After a long day in the saddle I made camp and went for a walk to see if there was a place I could get some food in a nearby village. I struck upon a lovely veranda restaurant overlooking a small pond. I took my seat, the only person in the place, and waited very contentedly. A few minutes later a young Thai girl appeared and began talking to me. Not being conversant in Thai I signalled that I would like to eat and have a drink. Clearly I was missing something as she continued to talk. I asked if they were closed, again with hand signals, and she shook her heard. The charades went on for some time, during which other people emerged and began helping. My confusion grew until eventually someone got out her phone and fired up google translate. The key concept that I had been missing? This was not a restaurant just a family’s dinner table.
Mortified I apologized and began to leave. It all turned very merry at our now shared comprehension and the family insisted I join them for dinner and then again for breakfast. I’ve no idea what they made of the odd farang who turned up at their house one night demanding repasse but I have very fond memories of them.
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
As with most of the places people loathe it was less the location than my frame of mind. I contracted e-coli from drinking bad water and feeling utterly awful I summoned the energy to cycle to a budget hotel in the middle of town. It was big totalitarian Soviet block but my standards are low and need was great. I immediately fell into a fitful sleep despite it being 11 in the morning. When I awoke at 10pm the room was freezing, literally. On arrival I hadn’t noticed that the window had a huge hole in it. Wintery Armenia in October at 1000ft did the rest. Feeling very ill and shivering I then discovered that the radiator wasn’t plumbed in and that the hot water I had paid extra for wasn’t working. Frustration got the better of my body’s desire never to move again and I ventured into the hallway. Long story short I spent the next 45 minutes walking around a deserted hotel with barely any lights unable to find anyone or re-find my room. I used an utterly disgusting flooded toilet before eventually finding a custodian. They tried to fob me off with a scratchy blanket but eventually relented and gave me a small heater. Suffice to say that despite still feeling extremely ill I got on my bike and rode out of Vanadzor the next day.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Wherever is over the next hill.
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
The list is horrific. Every conversation with a fellow traveller, reminiscence from a family member, glance at twitter and read of a travel blog sets off my wanderlust.
Right now near the top of the list is cycling western Norway into the arctic circle to Nordkapp. Crossing the Sahara to Timbuktu and seeing the verdant valleys of Afghanistan.
Can you imagine life without travel?
Yes, it’s very grim.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
I would be back working the 9-5 office job in London that I fled from at the end of 2012. Travel saved me from that.
What is the name of your travel blog and the url?
Black dog bicycling – http://blackdogbicycling.blogspot.com/
When did you begin your website?
Almost three years ago. When I decided to quit my job, buy a bicycle and set off riding east my mum made a deal with me. Wear a helmet and keep a journal. My blog was initially the way I kept the later of those promises.
Why do you write (for money/connecting with people/therapeutic/fun)?
I travel alone. Occasionally I’ll meet someone on the road and we’ll rub along together for a stretch but usually it’s just me, myself and I. I like this solo locomotion and but one downside is that you have no one to reminisce with. To remind you of the time you did x or saw y. Without an external aide de memoir my recollections of those places fade and distort. So I write and order my thoughts, share the wonderful with the world and find context for my pictures. As I have gone along I have begun to love the writing process for the reflection it prompts.
What makes your site so unique and why should people read it?
More and more people are lighting out on bicycles and riding round the world but still there aren’t too many travelers who have self propelled themselves 25,000k through 25+ countries and wild camped in all sorts of odd and interesting places. The nature of the mode means I spend a lot of time passing through in between places. Places that aren’t typically visited which means you’ll find places and people and impressions that aren’t often covered in most other travel writing.
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
Homes from Homes – A collection of photos depicting some of the wild camp spots that I have made my home for the night over the last two years. From Cappadocian caves to Byzantine watchtowers, Balkan mine fields to Iranian goat herd huts.
What has been your favourite article to write either for your blog or another publication?
I think I most enjoyed writing this piece just after I was hit by a car in Switzerland.
It was a cathartic process that really crystallized some of my thoughts about the nature of risk and of how I wanted to live.
What is your favourite mode of transport? (plane/train/boat/car)
Kidding. Nothing beats a bicycle!
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
You don’t need to have it all worked out. Take the first step outside your front door and your away, travelling, who knows where it might end.
That and to smile. A smile solves most problems.
What has travel taught you?
That we magnify the differences between peoples when the similarities are much more significant.
Favourite travel quote?
The less you augment your impediments with luxuries the better – Edward Lear
Quick fire questions:-
Favourite country? Oman
Favourite city? Orvieto
Favourite beach? Ko Ngai, Thailand
Favourite food? Italian Ice Cream
Favourite language? Malay.
Please provide the following:-
Website url? http://blackdogbicycling.blogspot.com/
Twitter handle? @Gordon_Comstock
Facebook page? https://www.facebook.com/thomas.boughton
Google+ profile/page? google.com/+TomBoughton3