The city of Bristol in South West England, which made it into our ‘10 of the Greenest Cities in the World’ list in 2016, is fast becoming one of the friendliest bike cities in the UK. A year prior, it was given the distinction as the greenest city in the United Kingdom. New cycling initiatives, improved routes and cycling awareness are just some of the reasons why cycling in Bristol has become so popular. And, one of the reasons we now call this city, our home!
The allure of cycling in this green city isn’t the only reason Bristol is great for cycling. The city also boasts lovely, picturesque routes, like the Bristol-Bath Railway Path, which is the most famous of these routes, and arguably the most spectacular. It is generally flat, making it perfect for novice riders and ideal for some sightseeing along the way. I’m luck enough to live just off this bike path, and commute 20 minutes along it each day to work – much nicer than cycling on the busy city roads!
Then there’s the over 15-mile Ashton to Pill Path, and it is as challenging as it is exquisite. It passes along the River Avon, with cyclists having the option to explore Leigh Woods, a vast expanse of woodland filled with rare flowers. The lesser-known Frome Greenway loop is well worth taking as well, as you’ll get to see the best of both the city (Queen Square and Castle Park most notably) and countryside (Hermitage Wood and St. Werburghs City Farm, in particular).
The shorter Harbourside Loop is incredible, too, as it involves biking along Bristol’s historic harbour. Also worth taking is the Ashton Court Estate Route, which is tailor-made for mountain bikers of every level. Beginners can take Ashton Court’s popular bike trail, while experts can take the middle path, which is filled with luscious greens, and ends with a nerve-racking descent. The Strawberry Line is another popular route and passes through the divine-looking Thatcher’s Orchards.
With all these bike route options, you can probably see why Michael and I chose to move here!
The thrilling descent at the Ashton Court Estate
These are but a few of the routes that make Bristol increasingly bike-friendly and you can expect most of them to improve in the coming years with Bristol Live reporting about likely renovations to the UK’s National Cycle Network. The plan to improve the 16,000-mile network, as part of a broader effort by the UK government and related stakeholders to further promote the country as a cycling destination and perhaps more importantly, to “inspire a new generation to get on their bikes.” They have the perfect advocate in this regard in Laura Kenny, who is included in Coral’s list of iconic British sports women since 2000. Kenny won gold medals at the London and Rio Olympics, making her one of the most successful British athletes of all time. Now, she is using her success as a platform to encourage people to saddle up. She is, in fact, an active partner in various initiatives that promote cycling, notably Soreen’s Cycle Project.
Projects like Soreen’s seem to be working, as The Telegraph notes there has been an increase in the number of new cyclists in the UK. This is a great sign as cycling is one of the most popular ways of getting fit, prolonging life expectancy and saving people money in commuting. Approximately two million people cycle at least once a week in the UK, with the number of people cycling to work more than doubling between 2001 and 2011. These figures, however, don’t even include tourists who visit cities like Bristol, whose green reputation has made it a popular destination for cyclists to see the city.
Although cycling may not be the instant go-to form of transportation that the majority of people tend to think about when they consider trotting the globe, it certainly should be. By cycling, you don’t miss out on your journey as you’re ever-present and exposed to the elements, surroundings and adventure continuously.
If you need a push to get you on your bike and around the world, here are 6 reasons you should do it.
Cycle For Charity
If you seek adventure and you want to help those who are less fortunate than you, you may wish to enrol on to one of the many Global Adventure Challenges to raise money for charity. Whether you want to experience South East Asia and ride from Vietnam to Cambodia or cycle across Costa Rica from the Pacific to the Caribbean, you are sure to find a journey you would live to be a part of.
Apart from purchasing the bike, and maybe paying for a few repairs here and there, (some of which you can learn to do yourself before your journey), the bike is powered solely by you, thus no requirement for fuel or costly repairs in comparison to driving or flying to a set destination. Therefore, if you don’t want to spend an unnecessary amount of money on travel, your bike is the perfect pair of wheels to carry you around the globe.
No matter where you cycle, be it the local shop, the next town or to another country, the health benefits are always present as you cycle. As a low impact exercise, riding your bike is kinder to your joints, it’s great cardiovascular exercise, and it also decreases your stress levels. The same probably can’t be said for sitting in a car or travelling on an aeroplane, which is why you should choose your bike for travelling to reap the health benefits.
If you’re conscientious about the environment, you already know the damaging affects pollution from other transport has on global warming. Protecting the planet is vital, and it starts with you. By making a choice to travel by bike, you are making a decision to reduce your carbon footprint and be kinder to the world.
How many people can say that have travelled by bike from one country to another? Not very many at all. Cycling to different destinations is an exciting and different way to travel in comparison to other peoples transport options, for that you can feel a sense of accomplishment. Of course don’t forget that every path you meet whether it be mountain trails or national parks will not be smooth and without its bumps and hills, causing you to really put some effort in and push yourself from time to time to overcome a tricky route. However, once you’re over the hill, you will feel a sense of satisfaction and confidence to take on more cycling challenges.
This is a list of just a few reasons why you should embark on your travels with your bike. So what are you waiting for?
Well I can’t believe it’s over and I actually survived.
I’m not going to lie, in the week leading up to the run I was extremely nervous.
My training had not really gone to plan, and even my work mate kept telling me she was concerned for my safety (yes, Cat, I’m referring to you).
In all honesty, I hate the cold. I’m not sure why I keep ending up in these cold situations. First riding in snow in Canada, then the polar run/s, even the boiler in our flat just stopped working.
I guess there is something about the cold I must be drawn to – perhaps the ‘not-knowing-if-I-will-survive’ feeling. I can just imagine my Dad’s response to that last comment – don’t worry Dad, as usual I won’t tell you about it until I’ve survived it.
The Polar Challenge
Originally I had signed up to just the full marathon. However, once I met a couple of the other runners, and discovered they were signed up to do the Polar Challenge (running both the half marathon and the full marathon), I decided I had better just sign up too. Screw the lack of training and fear of the cold! The finisher t-shirt was in my colour, so what’s it matter if I lose a couple of toes in the process?
Due to some hurricane winds and wet weather the race days got moved. This is probably a good thing, seeing as on the original race day, our arctic bus (built like a bloody tank) almost slid off a bridge into some freezing water. Perhaps that story is for another day – my biggest fan (aka. my Dad) can only take so much news at once. Nonetheless, if we had the race day on the original day, there probably would have been far more injuries.
I took it pretty easy in the Half Marathon. We drove an hour to the start in a freezing cold bus. I had about 5 layers on and could not feel my toes at the starting line. At this stage I thought I was going to lose a couple of toes to frost bite, before even starting the race. You don’t really need toes anyway, do you? Just extra weight.
10 minutes into the run, and I was sweating more than running in a Perth summer. I was sweating to the point that I was actually scared of running. I knew that as soon as I hit the Ice Cap I would instantly freeze.
So the first 6km didn’t really go very smoothly. I was dropping things, sweating, tripping over my own feet… I ended up just walking most of it and taking photos.
Then I hit the Ice Cap.
Running on the Ice Cap was by far my favourite part of the run. My heavy-duty spikes were awesome! Apart from getting a bit carried away and running the complete wrong direction, it couldn’t have gone much better. I also managed not to freeze – so that was a bit of a bonus.
The rest of the run was amazing. The course went past several frozen lakes and glaciers, and over several step gravelly hills. Eventually I finished the half as a PW (personal worst) time, however I really enjoyed it and was much more prepared for the full.
I’m now feeling conscious that I have never wrote about a run before, and this may turn out to be the longest and most boring blog post I’ve ever written… So I’m going to summarise the rest of my time in Greenland in bullet point form.
Greenland: icy, cold winds, lots of meat (unfortunately for me), lots of emptiness, dancing Northern Lights, the smallest cities in the world, bloody expensive beers (though there are two craft breweries – hooray).
Marathons: amazing, cold (though I still managed to sweat buckets), hilly, icy, quiet.
Runners: probably my favourite part of the run and the whole trip was the runners. This was the first run(s) where I never listened to any music, and spent half of the time chatting to other runners. There may have only been 120+ of us, but I felt less alone than the ‘40,000+ runners’ events I’ve done. Such an inspiring bunch that have given me plenty of ideas for future challenges.
Placing (out of the females):
Half marathon: 14th
Full Marathon: 5th
Polar Challenge: 7th
When an event has constantly been on your mind for what seems like forever, it’s an odd feeling when it’s suddenly over and done with. There is a mixture of relief, happiness… and emptiness.
So I’m now in search of the next challenge. I honestly need some ideas, so if you have any let me know 🙂
“Our small hotel profits are essential to covering the costs of operating Ometepe Bilingual School…
Unfortunately, the riots that started on April 19th have worsened, and are seriously impacting the hotel’s ability to support the school. Reservations were cancelled including high school and college groups, tour operators, and independent travelers.”
Michael and I visited the hotel and school last year while cycling through the country, so I already had admiration for the project. I was also fortunate enough to witness the positive impact the school had had on the children, the local community and the environment.
I decided the Polar Marathon was a good opportunity to fundraise for the school.
All donations will be going directly to the school (minus the site’s fundraising fees) and you can visit the donation page here. I’ve discovered the site doesn’t work on all browsers (including Explorer), however it does work on Chrome and Safari. If you are having any issues making a donation, please get in touch.
The Polar Marathon fundraising campaign is open until the end of November 2018, however you are still able to donate after this date, if you wish.
The children also sent me this cute video, which I thought I would include in the post. Muchas gracias los ninos!
About the School and Current Situation
Nicaragua is involved in a difficult political crisis with government corruption resulting in extreme poverty for the hardworking people of Nicaragua.
Countries have issued travel warnings advising people not to visit the country. This is having a drastic impact on a country whose economy relies heavily on tourism.
The hotel, Hacienda Merida has dedicated it´s profits during the past 10 years to educating the children of Nicaragua, conserving our natural environment, and developing effective solutions to decrease poverty and food insecurity.
Unfortunately the hotel is no longer receiving any visitors, income or any profits for the school. The school and the children are at risk are sadly at risk.
An independent National survey publish by the International Foundation for the Global Economic Challenge (FIDEG in Spanish) found that in 2017, 41.2% of the Nicaraguan people are living at the poverty rate of $2.33 U.S. dollars per day, with an additional 7.7% in extreme poverty earning only $1.15 per day.
In addition, because of political mismanagement, many Nicaraguan’s have limited access to food and other goods, services, and health care. As the purchasing power of the average Nicaraguan continues to drop, the number of people in poverty increases. The current projections for 2018 indicate that by the end of this year, 57.3% of Nicaraguans will be in poverty.
The current crisis is taking an especially high toll on the beautiful children of Nicaragua. In rural areas, children have very limited access to education resulting in high rates of illiteracy. 21.8% of Nicaraguan rural children over the age of 10 are illiterate.
Any help is greatly appreciated – We all live in this world together and share the same planet. Political instability, poverty, and food insecurity do not recognize borders and have the potential to harm all of us.
A handful of people know that I’m running the Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland this Autumn. I haven’t told too many people about it – why Because, frankly, I have no idea whether I’m actually going to make it to the end. It’s going to be up there with one of the most extreme ‘whatthefuckwasIthinking’ challenges of my life.
Ometepe Bilingual School Fundraiser
I hadn’t planned on making this event a charity fundraiser, however when I recently received an email from the Ometepe Bilingual School in Nicaragua, explaining how the recent riots have had such a negative impact on their school and the children, I thought it was an opportunity to help out. Hey, if I’m risking losing an ear or nose to frost bite, I may as well do it for a good cause!
For those that don’t know, I visited the school last year while Michael and I were cycling through Nicaragua. We had the pleasure of staying at Hacienda Merida – an eco-friendly hotel on the stunning Ometepe Island. The hotel is the main source of funding for the school.
What makes Ometepe Bilingual school so special? The school is made out of rubbish – literally. Thousands of plastic bottles filled with rubbish can be found within the walls of the school. The school has a strong focus on sustainable practices, ecotourism (not greenwashing), reducing, reusing and recycling. If you want to read more about the sustainability of the school – I wrote an article on it last year.
It is also one of the few (if not only) schools in Nicaragua that teaches the importance of sustainability, as well as teaching both English and Spanish. The school recognises that becoming bilingual, and having an understanding of the importance of sustainability and environmentalism is a stepping-stone for the children on the island to empower themselves, and have a positive impact on their community. I should also mention that the school provides the education to children for free. The children that attend the school, predominately come from poor families. The school has been providing a great opportunity for these children.
These riots have impacted on the school in a number of ways. The riots have decreased tourism to the area. The school runs of profits from the hotel. The riots have resulted in many cancellations of bookings, and very few people visiting the island or the hotel. The riots have also resulted in roadblocks, resources not reaching where they are most needed and the government withdrawing funding to schools to cover the cost of lunches, which were previously provided.
I haven’t found that the riots have been covered that much in the media in the UK, but to give you an idea of what has been happening in the country, I have included a couple of news articles worth checking out.
Hundreds of people have already died in these protests, which started in April, and sadly they don’t seem to be ending anytime soon. To think the riots started in response to a peaceful protest against pension reforms.
Sadly, if the riots don’t cease soon, and/or the school doesn’t find another source of income, then it’s likely it will close.
Being the eco-minded person I am, I fell in love with the school, as well as the hotel. As well as writing an article about the school, I even included it in our Nicaragua Cycle Video.
This may not be a challenge by bicycle, but it’s a human-powered, challenge nonetheless, and one, which I hope, will raise some funds for this amazing school, as well as raise some awareness about the issues currently taking place in Nicaragua.
If you have any questions about the marathon, the school, the hotel, Nicaragua or anything at all – please drop me a line.
Thank you for taking the time for reading. If you are in the position to sponsor me – thank you! If you are not in the position, please spend a minute and share this page with your friends and family.
Though Michael and I are no longer cycle touring and have embarked on a somewhat normal-ish life, we have started experimenting with the exciting world of bikepacking.
So far, it’s been fab! We spent a few days bikepacking in the stunning Gower Pennisula in Wales, and almost a week cycling in the very challenging (for me) Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Only a few cuts and bruises, and I definitely need to build on my riding skill, that said we already have been chatting about heading off on a few more trips.
Next on the cards, we have potentially Slovenia, potentially Spain and potentially Georgia. If you have any recommendations on great places to bikepack – let us know!
Apart from bikepacking, we have spent time settling into our new home in Bristol, England – absolutely awesome city!! We had a few false starts when we first moved to England, but we are finally a bit more settled now.
As we are living just off the Bath to Bristol bike path, it hopefully will be ideal for hosting and meeting some other Warmshowers cyclists – so let us know if you do happen to be in the area.
Readjusting to… normality
Like most people that have just finished a cycle trip – readjusting took sometime. I was more prepared for it this time around – after the France to China by trip, the feelings of being disconnected from society and the overall cultural shock took me by surprise. This time, though I was more prepared, there were still the emotional challenges.
It was hard readjusting my mindset to a life where people (ie. me) didn’t have to worry about whether I had enough water to get through the next 24 hours, or where I was going to sleep tonight or tomorrow night, or whether my tent was going to leak, or a tornado was going to randomly pass through during the night. It is an odd feeling – going from worrying about life essentials/ survival, to worrying about, well things that don’t really matter.
Michael and I are still appreciating the little things in life, like having access to an oven, running water, hot showers, a good range of food, not living on an extreme budget, owning more than 5 pairs of clothes (I could go on and on). Though, still at times I feel very disconnected from society, especially when discussing anything about celebs, pop culture, or what’s on TV (I haven’t even bothered to buy a TV). These things didn’t matter in my life for 5 years – and though it’s common knowledge to some, for me, it’s not. It has lead to a few awkward conversations, including one where I wasn’t even sure whether Cher was still alive.
At times I miss the simplicity of life on the bike, but I am still happy with our decision – I think it was the right one; and I am are enjoying where we are right now.
Next on the agenda…
Other than readjusting, I’ve been training for an icy run I’m taking part in this Autumn – more about that in my next post. And, though I feel like I have rarely had a free minute, I cannot think of what else Michael and I have been up to this past year. Riding, working, eating, running, sleeping, cooking, hiking…
I DO plan to clear out, update and post more on our website over the next few months. So watch this space!
I know this might come as a shock to some, but while having time to think and discuss our trip, our expectations and what we want from the cycle trip, we actually discovered that we don’t want to be long term cycle touring. We’ve both travelled to around 70 countries, on and off for the last 10 years – it was time for something else!
This was a very sudden change in plan. We had no way that we would feel like this when we left Halifax. In fact, the entire time we were in Halifax we were so excited about starting cycling, that this is the last thing we thought was going to happen. But, sometimes you just don’t know how you will feel or how things will end up until you’re in that situation.
So, how and why did we come to the conclusion that we don’t want to be long term cycle touring anymore?
#1 There is more to life than just exploring the world by bicycle
I love travelling, I love cycling, I love seeing the world… but, as hard as it might be to admit this, there is more to life than travel and exploring. I once thought I could be one of those wandering nomads, off discovering new places and people, letting the road take me where it wants, but in reality I want more in my life than that.
Our priorities had changed and I know wanted the things that travel cannot provide, like the possibility of having chickens, a dog, and a veggie patch. I don’t want to be living on a strict budget each day, worrying about the pennies, where we’re going to sleep that night and whether we’ll get a shower that week. I know there are people out there that live like this either by choice or not, but in my case, I know I don’t have to live like this – there are other options.
Though travel and cycle touring is great for the short term, I don’t think it’s healthy to do constantly. You end up missing out on other important things, like weddings, birthdays and family events, and you aren’t able to maintain a healthy life balance. In the end, there is more to life than travel and cycle touring and that is a huge reason why we don’t want to be long term cycle touring anymore.
#2 I lost my purpose
I am a person that needs to find meaning or a purpose in everything I do, and one day while riding in the US, I realised that I couldn’t find any meaning in what I was doing. This triggered more thoughts and feelings about the trip… thoughts I eventually shared with Michael. I thought that perhaps it had something to do with cycling in the US, and that these feelings will leave once we make it to Latin America. It was pretty clear once we arrived in Nicaragua that it wasn’t the place that was the issue.
Cycling, travelling, living on a budget and being a nomad is exhausting. Even when you take a break (like we did in Halifax) you are still mentally on the move, planning for the next stage or trip. You’re also not able to make any long-term plans, because you’re only there for a short time. This along with constantly being on a strict budget, taking note of the pennies you spend, and trying to figure out how to make your money stretch to the next “rest” spot where you can work, is quite tiring. We had just had enough of skimping on things that we otherwise wouldn’t have to.
I was also diagnosed with an eye condition in Halifax, which meant I was supposed to keep my eye completely clean and put a heat pack on it twice a day – if you’re a cycle tourist, you’d probably understand how difficult that can be. This was just another thing to worry about.
#4 Sights losing the “wow” factor
You know this is starting to happen when you start compare everything you are seeing for the first time, to something or somewhere you have already been. You’ll hear yourself say things like, “This city is just like Antigua in Guatemala.” or, “This lake isn’t as pretty as Lake Atitlan.”
For us as well, we felt like this cycle trip was never going to compare to the France to China cycle trip, where everything was new and exciting. We were also cycling through a lot of countries that we had already been too. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time travelling there a few years ago, but the feeling wasn’t the same as exploring somewhere for the first time.
#5 I don’t like saying “goodbye” constantly
Cycle touring and travelling you do get to meet so many wonderful people, and I can say I’m lucky enough to have friends all over the world, but while constantly being on the move you can still be limited to how strong a connection you make or keep with those friends. At times you feel like you have all the friends in the world, other times you can feel so isolated and alone.
I also hate saying goodbye. I feel like with the number of times I’ve had to say “goodbye” in my life, it should be easier to say it by now. In fact, I feel like the more I say “goodbye” the harder it gets.
One thing that cycle touring has taught me is how important family and friends are, and instead of spending months, sometimes years without seeing my loved ones, I would rather have the option to see them whenever I like. Why? Because I miss my friends and family.
No, I’m not having babies! Sorry, Mum and Dad, but I’m afraid I’ll only be giving you fur-grandchildren.
At first we had no idea what we would do. Michael and I are both from Perth, but have spent a large portion of our lives in other countries. I’ve spent just as long living in England as Australia, and already feel a bit torn between two countries. Though, at the same time, if we could pick absolutely anywhere to live, we would probably go with British Columbia in Canada. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to get sponsorship and move there permanently, so with the assumption that New Zealand is supposed to be similar to Canada, this was the first place we picked to move to. This also meant I didn’t have to choose between my two homes, England and Australia. We eventually rethought this idea and decided to give England a go – mostly due to family, and being located in Europe.
So on June 13th 2017 Michael and I will be moving to the UK to start our next adventure. To some this may not seem like much of an adventure, but it’s all about perspective, and to us a life of stability and routine, really will be an adventure.
Will we cycle tour again?
Absolutely! Cycle touring is still our preferred way of travelling, and we’ve already discussed plans to take a week or two cycle trip around Norway and Iceland, and within the UK.
No, we won’t be planning any future long term cycle trip. I think we’ve said goodbye to our budget/ long term travel days. We hope that by living a more stable life, and taking only the occasional cycle trip, our lives will rebalance, and we will become more excited about travel and appreciate our future trips a bit more.
What does this mean for Cycle Trekkers?
Nothing. Just because we don’t want to be long term cycle touring, it doesn’t mean we won’t still cycle tour, so Cycle trekkers will continue as usual. We’ll continue to add our cycle blogs, gear reviews,eco-discoveries and anything else bicycle related, to the site.
Long term cycle touring is a bit glorified, just like budget travelling is, and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that think Michael and I have the easiest life in the world. Well, no actually it’s bloody hard work and very exhausting. Usually the rewards of beautiful sights and new experiences is enough to make it worth while, but when you’re not excited by this like you used to be, then you start to wonder what is the point – why are we still cycling? So that’s why we don’t want to be long term cycle touring anymore, and why we are ending our trip early. Have you every experienced something similar, and ended a tour early? Or are you set on exploring the world by bicycle for the rest of your life? Would love to hear about your experience.
Our first day exploring Nicaragua was spent mostly sleeping, eating and procrastinating over putting the bikes back together after the long flight to Latin America – ok so not much exploring. This resulted in us spending an extra day in country’s capital though, which I don’t really recommend.
So, did our bikes make it?
Yes, they did. There was a minor issue with my bike, but we managed to resolve that issue a couple of days later. Michael and I spent around 3 hours piecing the bikes back together in the carport of our guesthouse. We even had some young kids join in with the rebuilding of the bikes.
My cough still hadn’t improved since arriving in Managua. In fact we were actually worried that it had got worse after I coughed up some blood the day after we arrived. I might not know a lot about injuries and illness, but I know coughing up blood is definitely not a good thing, so I spent the morning visiting doctors, getting x-rays and picking up prescriptions. Everything seemed to look fine and I was told it should clear up with time. As you can imagine, I was pretty relieved over this news.
The next day, we packed up and cycled about 60km to Granada. We planned to take Spanish classes (at a chocolate mansion – I know, I have a chocolate addiction) and rest until I was well enough really start exploring Nicaragua and to cycle long distances again.
On the road exploring Nicaragua y bicycle… breifly
Nicaragua was definitely a lot more humid and hotter than New York State, so we decided to get an early start cycling. This proved to be pretty much pointless. I decided it would be a great idea to follow google map’s shortest route to Granada. This route took us down some pretty questionable roads, and into what we think was a sketchy part of town. It took us an hour to cycle 5km from the guesthouse, and we were nowhere near getting out of the city limits. In the end, we backtracked to the main road where the guesthouse, was and took the longer route towards Granada, sticking only to the main roads.
Lesson 1 learnt: stick to the main roads, especially when leaving big cities. Don’t be tempted to take the shorter route – it won’t be quicker.
The rest of the day’s cycle was actually awesome. We passed local properties, farms, plantations, volcanos and mountains. The main road was surprisingly well paved, with a good-sized hard shoulder. Even the drivers seemed courteous to cyclists, and we felt no aggression on the road. Originally, we had planned to take it slow to make sure I didn’t over do it. We thought the 60km cycle would take most of the day, but we ended up arriving in Granada around lunchtime – also the hottest part of the day. We checked into our Airbnb, hit the showers and had a siesta.
Granada is a beautiful, colonial town, but extremely touristy, and therefore, also a little bit more expensive than we were expecting. The colourful buildings, and rustic doorways give a lot of character to the city, and I can definitely see why the city is known to be a photographer’s dream.
For the most part, I rest in Granada, though we did decide to cycle to a nearby lake, which actually turned out to be 15km up a volcano to a CRATER lake. It was beautiful, but it was definitely a hot, sweaty and very difficult cycle day. Surprisingly we saw loads of local cyclists out on the main road between Granada and Masaya (this was before the turn off up the volcano). These cyclists were not the usual commuting cyclists we had seen, but road cyclists.
After our time in Granada, we planned to leave the bikes at the Airbnb and head into El Salvador and maybe Honduras for a week. This plan changed once we arrived in Leon. For some reason, I’ve started to get a bit motion sickness in anything that goes faster than my bike. The 3 hour shuttle we took to Leon, proved not to be too enjoyable, and I couldn’t think of anything worse than a 10+ hour trip to El Salvador. On top of this, Michael wasn’t too phased about visiting either country, so we decided to stay in Leon, do an overnight hike and visit the Flor de Cana rum distillery before heading back to Granada to pick up the bikes and continue exploring Nicaragua.
During this time Michael and I were discussing our plans for the trip. We made a few realisations and ended up changing our plans once again!
Overall the flight to Nicaragua was a bit of a nightmare. This was the first time we had ever tried flying with bicycles, and unfortunately it didn’t go completely smoothly.
First, we caught the greyhound from Buffalo to Toronto. This was probably the only part of the trip that went smoothly. There were only 4 people on the bus and the Greyhound staff didn’t even charge us extra for the bikes – score! We had no issues headed back through the Canadian border. They didn’t even want to x-ray our bike boxes, or any of our bags – double score! At this stage, I was quite hopeful and thought the smooth bus trip was a positive sign for things to come…
Toronto Airport: Flying with bicycles!
It was all downhill from the moment we arrived at Toronto Airport! Once we arrived at the airport, we started to make our way to the departure hall. This turned out to be unnecessarily difficult, when we discovered that the elevators aren’t actually wide enough for our bike boxes. This meant, holding the elevator open while Michael pushed each box into the elevator along with all our bags. Taking up the lift for so long, doesn’t make us too popular with the other passengers. It also turned out we were departing from a different terminal, so we had plenty of small elevators and a train to overcome.
When we finally made it to departures, we checked in then proceeded to the oversized luggage. Now being oversized, you think that would mean they have x-ray machines large enough for oversized baggage. Well, they don’t! The customs officer actually tried to squeeze our bike boxes through the small x-ray machine. Mine managed to fit through. Michael’s on the other hand got stuck. We then spent the next 30 minutes trying to push Michael’s bike out of the x-ray.
At one point, Michael had the end of a broom, and was pushing the box from one end, the customs officer was messing around with the belt… reversing it and then moving it forward again, and another lady was trying to pull the box from the back. It almost seemed to comical to be reality, and part of me was waiting for the “You’ve Been Framed” camera crew to appear around the corner. After 30 minutes had passed, I was convinced that they would have to dismantle the machine to get Michael’s bike out… but, finally, somehow the box was freed and popped out the machine.
After all this, the officer then told Michael he had to open the box to search it – so much for the 4 rolls of duct tape we used to tape up the box. Finally the officer was happy and our bikes disappeared along the conveyer belt. We hoped the next time we seen our bikes would be in Nicaragua – this turned out not to be the case!
Connecting in Mexico City
We were flying from Toronto to Managua via Mexico City. Originally, when I booked the flights I thought that since it was all with Aeromexico, our bags would be checked all the way through. There was no mention ANYWHERE on the ticket on website, that this wasn’t the case. During check out, we were informed that we would have to pick up the bikes and re-check them in for our next flight. Bummer!
When we arrived into Mexico City, we proceeded to the baggage claim and collected our bikes and bags. FYI in Mexico City you need to pay for the baggage carts – great when you are only planning on being in the airport for 2 hours and have no Mexico pesos on you. Luckily, a local came to our rescue and gave us money for a cart – seriously, an amazing random act of kindness, which put me in a good, positive mood.
The airport staff told us that our bike boxes would need to be checked at customs, so after collected our boxes, we headed to departures! Luckily, Mexico Airport has wider elevators, so getting around the airport wasn’t so much of a drama as it was at Toronto. Once we arrived at the oversized luggage check in, we were told we had to wrap the boxes in plastic wrap. Even now this makes no sense to me, as we were told they would have to open the boxes up and check inside – so wrapping them in plastic before the check really seemed pointless and wasteful. Regardless of our attempts of reasoning with the customs officer, we paid $50 (no joke) to get each box wrapped in plastic. Then we headed back to the oversized baggage, and said “goodbye” to our bikes, once again.
Later, when I did open my bike box, I discovered a piece of paper inside informing me my box had been checked by security – so I guess they just paid for the bike to be rewrapped again? At least I didn’t have to pay for the “plastic waste” again.
Flying with bicycles: the last leg
The flight from Mexico City to Managua was extremely rough and I was extremely happy to be on the ground when we arrived in Managua. On the plus side, the views flying over El Salvador and Nicaragua were amazing. Lots of volcanos, lakes, mountains and beaches greeted us as we made the descent through the clouds.
Clearing border security was easy – we weren’t even asked about an onwards flight (which is great, as we didn’t have one)! We headed over to baggage collection to pick up our bikes – hopeful that our bikes made it ok!
I think from being wrapped in plastic, the ground staff couldn’t tell what were in the boxes and they had been thrown around A LOT! The boxes were extremely beaten up, with several metal parts protruding from the box.
Initially we had planned to put the bikes together at the airport, and then ride to the guesthouse we had booked. I don’t know what we were thinking. It was stinking hot, we hadn’t slept for over 24 hours and we weren’t 100% sure that our bikes were going to be functional ever again! Eventually, we decided to jump in a taxi, squeeze the bikes and all our gear in, and head to the guesthouse to deal with the situation there, instead of in the arrivals hall, with hundreds of touts harassing us.
I had booked a guesthouse that was only 2km from the airport. Our boxes were squeezed into the back of a taxi, and tied down with some rope! After a 5 minutes ride, we arrived at the guesthouse and paid our overpriced taxi fare (got to love that “gringo” tax – man, I hate airport taxis!) We ended up spending 2 days in Managua to put the bikes together and sort our shit out!
So that was our first experience flying with bicycles! Did our bikes survive the trip? Was I well enough to start cycling again? How was it going to be cycling in Nicaragua? You’ll have to wait until the next post to find out.
Lessons Learnt from our experience flying with bicycles:
Don’t use a cardboard bike box when flying with bicycles! I think next time we’re going to just try wrapping it in plastic (though my environmentalist instinct hates this wasteful idea).
Try and get a direct flight, if this isn’t possible, double check with the airline whether the flight will connect your baggage, or whether you will need to collect it during transit.
Riding from the airport when you haven’t slept for 24 hours is never a great idea! Don’t fool yourself!
Aeromexico has shit customer service – no way around this!
Don’t count on being able to put the bikes together at the airport! Even if you want to try and put them together, have a back up plan in place, in case it’s not possible.
If ground staff can’t tell it’s a bike, then they will probably toss it around, A LOT!
If you have some tips on flying with bicycles, then let us know! We definitely appreciate any advise to help make our next experience not so stressful.