Tomorrow is the 4th of July, a huge day of celebration here in the United States when nearly every city in the country shoots a storm of fireworks up into the air in celebration of our nation’s independence.
To tell the truth, I’m not really a huge fan of July 4th celebrations, but every year when the 4th of July rolls around it reminds me of one of my most memorable bicycle touring moments.
This is a photo of me on my 2002 bike tour. Age 18.
Somewhere north of Pueblo, Colorado, USA.
It was the summer of 2002. I was 18-years-old and for the past week I had been slowly making my way by bike across the windy plains of Kansas and Eastern Colorado. The wind had been blowing non-stop and through the small radio that I was carrying with me, I had been hearing for days about a wave of fires burning throughout the state of Colorado – in the very direction that I was headed.
When the 4th of July finally rolled around, I made my way out of eastern Colorado’s flatlands and pulled into the first major city I had seen in some time – Pueblo, Colorado. I was glad to be in a big city, but because the fires throughout the state were so bad and the danger of more fires breaking out was so high, officials were saying that there would be no firework displays on this particular July 4th.
Sure that there would be no firework display to take part in this particular evening, I made my way to a large park near the city’s Pueblo Zoo. In the park, police mounted on horseback informed me that I could camp there and even arranged to have a park official come and meet me later that evening, so as to let me sleep inside a protected gated-off area.
With arrangements made to meet the park official at 8 PM, I spent the rest of my day cycling around downtown Pueblo. At 7 PM, I picked up a pizza at a local pizzeria and then cycled with it back to the gate where I was to meet the park official.
When I arrived, the park official was waiting for me. He opened a large chain-link gate, let me inside and even went so far as to unlocked a large maintenance building that contained a restroom, refrigerator, microwave and more.
“I’ll be back at 7 AM to let you out of here,” the park official told me.
He then locked the gate, jumped in his truck and drove off… leaving me all alone, locked inside a chain link fence located high above the city.
By this time, it was nearly dark and I knew that if there were going to be a firework display that evening, now was the time it was going to happen. So I grabbed my pizza and made my way to the hillside, where I found an incredible view overlooking the city.
And then, as I had just about given up on any chance of seeing my traditional 4th of July fireworks, a storm of lights filled the sky. There WAS going to be a fireworks show in Pueblo that night… and not only was there going to be one show, but there were going to be three!!!
For the next several minutes, a wave of flaming lights shot up into the sky and exploded in front of me, off to my right and far off to my-left-hand side. Meanwhile, I stood in wonder, eating my pizza and realizing just how lucky I was to be out on this amazing bicycle adventure.
Since that day, I’ve realized that many of my most memorable bicycle touring moments have happened off my bike. It is moments like that 4th of July fireworks show in Pueblo, Colorado that I remember most. And because of this, I now look for similar experiences when traveling with my bike… and I recommend you do so as well!
For example, here are just a few activities that you can look for when traveling with your bike that take place outside, are usually free to enjoy, and almost always make for memorable moments when traveling by bike:
Festivals & Parties
If you plan your trip out well, or if you simply get lucky and stroll into town at the right time of year, you might find that the city you are visiting is hosting a large party or festival of some kind.
This past February I found myself in Luzern, Switzerland during the Fasnacht, a huge outdoor festival that takes place during the cold winter months. The event was so strange and so bizarre, it is likely something I will never forget.
Check out some of the pictures from that event here.
Many cities conduct outdoor concerts during the summer months that are open to the public and free of charge. The musicians are often local, but you can often times get lucky and see famous, well-known artists perform for free. A couple years back I enjoyed a free Willie Nelson concert while out on the road… and last year I found myself listening to some of Serbia’s most famous young singers perform on a stage in Montenegro.
Parades are another great, free and fun way to spend a day in a new city. Just set your bike up on the sidewalk, take a seat on the curb and enjoy the passing show. Some cities might even ask you to ride in the parade with them – and media officials who are there to cover the parade may end up doing a story on you as well!
Markets are fantastic free fun as well. You can usually stroll through the market with your bike in hand and shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, and other home-made goods. For the health-conscious bike traveler, there couldn’t be a better way to shop for the food that is needed to power you from one city to the next.
Check out this video of a market I visited in Skopje, Macedonia at this time last year.
Next, do what you can to search out any movies that might be playing in town. But don’t pay big bucks to go to a boring old movie theater. Instead, do what you can to see if there is an outdoor movie playing in your area. Large cities will often times have weekly films playing in the city park or other such outdoor venues. Such films are usually free to attend and they are a great place to meet people; bring a picnic dinner and enjoy an evening
under the stars.
Finally, if you like sports of any kind, keep an eye out for such events. Soccer, football, baseball/softball, volleyball, rugby, tennis, cricket and other such sports usually take place outside, are free to the public and make for memorable times away from your bicycle.
In order to find events such as these while traveling with your bike, the best place to start is the local visitor center. If there is no visitor center in town… or you simply can’t find it, jump on the Internet and visit the website of the city in which you find yourself. Most city’s have an “Events Calendar” of some kind where they list public events such as those mentioned above. And if you can’t find a website to look for this type of information, simply ask the locals and/or explore your immediate area. Some of my most memorable moments have come from unexpectedly finding myself in the middle of a parade, outdoor concert, or huge sporting event simply because I put myself in the right place at the right time.
So get out there!
This month I encourage you to get outside and ride your bike. But most importantly, step away from your bike for a while and look for something fun, free, and memorable to take part in.