Southern Utah News Articles
Top Stories for December 7, 2012
Biking around the world!
It was a late Friday afternoon in October when I hopped on my bike to take some materials ?back to the Kanab library. Pulling up to the bike rack, there sat a bicycle – loaded front, ?center and rear. Fully loaded indeed! It definitely caught my eye, and some affixed signs ?made me further want to find the owner. No sooner had I inquired at the front desk, as ?to “where is the owner of that bicycle,” when the librarian pointed to a man leaving the ?building, just behind me. I hurried out, introduced myself, and that began a visit that ?would last until 9 a.m. the next morning.
Alvaro Neil is a 45 year old bicyclist who has been traveling the world since 2004. He ?plans to finish this awesome part of his life in 2017 … 13 years! Neil is from Spain, and ?decided to quit his career as an attorney, and travel the world – on a bike! In his travels, he ?often performs as a clown, freely giving his talents, namely for elementary school age?children who are underprivileged and often living in orphanages. He supports his passion ?– and his life – by writing and producing books and documentaries of his travels.
Neil lives on $10 per day, mostly camping, and cooking all his meals, often just along ?the roadside (he did that Thursday night, 15 miles east of Kanab on Hwy 89). He has ?everything material for his life on that bike, including a laptop computer and camera to ?record his travels. His bike weighs 35 pounds, and the rest of his “life” 125 pounds. He ?probably weighs 145 pounds. His bike is carrying much weight and travel is slow. ?Typically he averages around 9-10 mph.
A routine travel day entails two hours pedaling, ?half an hour to rest, two more hours pedaling, one hour to eat lunch and rest, and one ?more hour pedaling (45-50 miles per day). He carries an extra battery for his laptop, ?and at the end of most days, he writes. He often stops at local libraries to download ?his writings and photos, and update his website.
He also writes a monthly column for ?a Spanish biking magazine. During these past eight years, he has biked 70,000 miles (he is now on his third bike) ?throughout 66 countries, spending time in Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia (also ?China and Japan), South America, Australia, New Zealand, and recently the past five ?months in North America.
A friend of his told him, “You must visit the Wave.” So, rather ?than go directly from Bryce Canyon National Park to Zion National Park, Neil pedaled ?an additional 120 miles to see this amazing piece of nature’s art. He went through Kanab on his way, and again on his return, and then spent ?two hours in the Kanab library updating his website.
My wife Jeanne and I asked Neil to be our guest for the evening, and he happily accepted. He greatly appreciated a comfortable bed, hot shower, clean clothes, and a couple of ?home-cooked meals.?Our time together afforded us to learn much of Neil’s travels and experiences. He began 2012 cycling in New Zealand. His North American goal was to begin biking at Dead Horse, Alaska, located in the far northern part of the state, along the Arctic Ocean. Because of the weather, he had to wait until June to begin his? southerly biking, so he spent four additional months biking in New Zealand and ?one month biking in Hawaii. He managed to catch a ride from Hawaii to Dead Horse ?for an extremely low price of $100.
Since June, his journey has brought him through ?Alaska, the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, and now?Utah. This night he is camping in Zion. While Neil’s initial route was planned to go ?into Arizona and then over to Los Angeles, he has changed his route. From Zion he will head to Las Vegas, Death Valley, and then to Los Angeles.
Of course, Jeanne and I asked him the typical logistical questions, but we also asked him others. Following are a few interesting findings.?Neil said the most generous people were those of Africa. (In his three years on that continent, people in every country opened their homes and hearts to him, although ?people in some countries were notably more extending than others.) He found it?amazing that the people in these very poor countries were often the kindest and most ?giving. While many people throughout the world shared ‘extras,’ these people ?often gave their essentials.
He mentioned meeting some tourists ?in a motorhome in Montana, and the husband told his wife to give him (Neil) a ?couple oranges, as we have plenty for ourselves. But a tribe in Africa, living in ?huts with dirt floors, killed one of their goats to celebrate a stranger from another ?country – Alvaro – visiting their community, and then feeding him with festivity. Neil ?was not negating the people who gave him the oranges, as most people pass him by, ?but merely showing differences in culture. One could similarly compare the relative ?meaningfulness of $1,000 to Donald Trump versus a dollar to a homeless man.
Of all the countries Neil visited, we asked which were the most hospitable. Before he answered, he mentioned communicating with one of his friends earlier this ?summer, also a world cycler for several years. The two of them had a similar discussion. In their world biking experiences, they independently came up with these same three countries as being the best … northern Sudan, Iran and Syria.
Neil said the northern ?part of Sudan is Muslim and the southern is Christian, and the northern part is poorer. As ?for Iran and Syria, we Americans have our opinions of both countries, but our judgment ?is heavily influenced by the media, our biases and prejudices, and the political leaders?of these countries, rather than the people themselves. Which shows when one gets to the raw core of humanity, people are just people … and governments are often obstacles.
Neil said he has had seven experiences he considered life threatening. One ?involved being hit by a car; one in a bus on the way to perform his clown show at an orphanage that nearly went off a cliff high in the Peruvian Andes, with the bus’s front end hanging over a sheer drop; an encounter with a poisonous snake; and four bouts of malaria. For one of those bouts, a priest administered last rites to him, and the doctor who treated him said had Neil delayed treatment another five?hours, he would have certainly died.
Neil told of another biker/friend who also contracted malaria; unfortunately he died of the disease in 2009. He was only 50 years old. Neil? showed us his friend’s photo.
Neil said the most unusual experience was his short visit to Bhutan, mainly because it is a very expensive country and difficult to gain entry. He shared his story on how he ?managed to negotiate and bypass both of those hurdles. Still, his negotiating skills only ?allowed a two-week stay.
This past year Neil met a Swiss lady (Marta), who has also been biking worldwide these past three years. She is currently back in Switzerland, but will be joining Neil for Christmas in Argentina. They will take a month off to work on his books/documentaries. He is hoping she will join him in his continued travels. He said he was in awe of the?Wave and would like to show the place to Marta. Regardless, he plans to be back in the United States in March. He is a delightful and interesting man and we invited him to visit us again.
Although a native and longtime resident of Spain, there is much of Europe Neil has yet to see. He said this will be the end of his current conquest – until the next one. Since Europe is a relatively small continent, he expects to do this last leg in one year. He has not been back to Spain since he left in 2004. Jeanne and I now follow his journey through his website: http://www.biciclown.com/
Having just checked his website, I noticed Neil even has an entry for his visit with us: “Kidnapped by a couple in their sixties. My bike locked in Moqui Cave and I had hot shower, ?great dinner and a bed!”
One last tidbit … Neil mentioned a website many bikers often access: http://www.warmshowers.org/user/register. This website was started by a Colorado man who has a soft spot for bikers. Jeanne and I are ?considering registering on this site, and welcome bikers who might need a place to stay, or maybe ?a hot shower, or a good meal. Bikers check this website often as they travel, and if we happen to?be home and available to a biker in need, there may now be a place in Kanab, UT. Neil said we?would be the first in our small city. If any future traveling biker has a tiny fraction of what Neil ?shared with us, we would be thrilled to have him/her/them as company. We encourage you to give?some thought to doing the same!