After 15 years of cycle touring, Chris and Heather Hartridge have become known as the Quesnel Bikers.
While touring through North America, Mexico, Nicaragua and many other beautiful places, the couple has been sharing their journeys through a blog and through articles published in the Observer.
“A lot of people know us as the bikers,” Chris said with a laugh. “We have a whole other Quesnel life. We had businesses here, and I still teach at the college, but we’re the Quesnel Bikers.”
Next week, the Hartridges will depart on a five-and-a-half-month tour through South Korea and southeast Asia, and once again, they will be sending us periodic articles and photos from the road.
Chris and Heather say social media plays quite a role in their travels now, as they can follow people and connect with them and ask them questions — and others can ask them questions as well. They have a blog that people can follow, and they can use social media to find out things like where the best coffee shops are.
“For cyclists, social media has become a worldwide community,” said Chris. “We help other people with advice because we have quite a bit of experience, and we ask advice of other people. Right now, we’re talking to people who are in South Korea right now.”
The Internet has also helped connect the Hartridges to a worldwide group called Warm Showers, which Chris explains “is like couch surfing for cyclists.” The couple has been part of this group for many years, and through this, they have hosted many cyclists at their home in Quesnel and stayed at many different places along their travels.
The day I interviewed the couple, they had just said goodbye to a cyclist from Ireland they had hosted.
“We’ve been hosts and guests of Warm Showers for over 11 years, and we’ve stayed at a lot of really interesting places, with people you’d never get to meet, ever,” said Chris.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re going to South Korea,” added Heather. “We had these Koreans stay with us three years ago, and they had bike problems, and they ended up staying with us for 10 days, and they were just a lovely young couple. They just said to us ‘if you ever go to South Korea, connect with us,’ so they’re going to lend us all our camping gear so we don’t have to take any camping gear, which is wonderful.”
It was this couple who advised the Hartridges that October is the best time to visit South Korea.
“It’s just a great opportunity because if you go into a country like South Korea, where do you start, where do you head,” said Heather. “Just having them to advise us as to best trails, it’s invaluable, so we just kind of felt we had to do it this year. We’re getting older. Our travels might be closer to home in the future — it’s hard to say.”
Heather says they like to go with the flow, and when people offer them suggestions — like their recent Irish Warm Showers guest telling them they have to cycle the Balkans — they like to listen.
The Hartridges will be gone Oct. 1 to March 20.
“We’re very excited,” said Heather. “We’re adventurous. It keeps our life interesting.”
“We’re quite addicted to it because we love it so much and it feels so good when we do it and we meet so many wonderful people and we see so many wonderful things that we just can’t seem to stop,” said Chris.
Chris says their South Korea trip is “relatively easy-ish” because of they have dedicated bicycle paths.
“They’re such a cultured country,” added Heather.
“In contrast to northern Thailand, which is actually where we’ll start cycling,” said Chris, noting they’ll land in Bangkok and start in Chiang Mai. “We’ve never been to Asia, ever, so this is a wonderful culture shock in a way. It’s going to be great. Immediately, the climate will have changed, and the language has changed.”
Heather says they are doing a cooking school in Bangkok, and she wants to do an organic country cooking school once they get to Chiang Mai too.
“We’ve heard nothing but amazing things about the food,” she said.
“The other side of it is to learn the history and culture of a place that we don’t know a lot about,” added Chris.
Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are on the list, and the Hartridges have two firm visas for Thailand and Vietnam. With the others, you get the visa at the border, so they’ll see how it goes.
“Laos has a couple of issues once in a while, so you just have to keep your ears open,” said Heather.
“Our federal government has a really wonderful travel website section, so we’re registered with them as going on a tour, and you can modify that reservation every time you’ve got a new destination,” said Chris. “But it also gives places to avoid, so we appreciate that, and we’ll use that information.”
The first place the Hartridges are staying in Bangkok is a place they discovered on Facebook called The Spinning Bear Bike Hostel, which is a hostel with a bicycle shop attached, and Chris says the owner has been very helpful so far, giving them tips and advice and offering to store the gear they don’t want for four and a half months.
Heather says they do about seven to eight kilometres an hour, which gives them a chance to really experience a place.
“We don’t do those big miles anymore,” she said. “We used to, but it’s too hard on us. And I want to enjoy it, and stop and look at this lovely lake and go for a walk through the forest.”
“All along, it’s been that way — we’ve never been on a time-based or destination-based program,” added Chris. “Some places have been booked ahead of time, but we always give ourselves lots of time to get there, to stop and smell the roses, meet the people along the way. There are so many people who are focused on just the ride as opposed to the experience.”
Heather feels fortunate they are still healthy enough and able to do big tours like this.
“We’re very lucky,” she said. “I always say, I kind of coined the phrase it’s like rolling meditation because it’s very rhythmical and it’s just like rolling meditation, especially when you’re in an area when it’s just fresh air. The people we’ve met, it’s kind of re-affirmed our faith in humanity. If you just watch the news, you think everyone’s out to get you, and it’s just not true.”
“This Warm Showers has gone a long way to support that because people welcome you with open arms generally, and you’ve never met them, and there’s no money exchanged,” said Chris. “The structure of the website is so well done that you know who you’re going to visit, and they know who’s coming to stay, and you know what to expect when you get there.”
“It makes the world a little more friendlier,” added Heather. “No matter where you go, people are people.”
The Hartridges camp and make their own food the majority of the time they are on the road, but they do sometimes take refuge in a hotel, for example when they are trapped by a storm.
“Cycle touring is a bit of a metaphor for life,” said Chris. “There’s ups and downs, you have to prepared for if stuff happens and not freak out when it happens and just deal with it, and that can be anything from a bike breakdown to a medical thing.”
The Hartridges’ tour is called The Good Neighbour Tour because they are meeting their neighbours around the world but also in memory of a good friend. Murray Boal was a singer-songwriter in Quesnel that Chris used to play music with, and he passed away from cancer. One of Boal’s best-known songs is “Good Neighbour.”
“We named our last two tours after his song,” said Chris.