On a long bicycle tour, some bike-free breaks naturally suggest themselves. There are cities in which to pause and explore (Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, La Paz, Quito and Medellín, among others). There are diversions, best visited on there-and-back trips aboard trains and boats and planes (Iguazu Falls, Argentine Patagonia, Santiago and Valparaíso, Peru’s Colca Canyon, Lima, Bogotá). And there are enforced pauses, whether due to weather (heat, rain, snow), sickness (colds, stomach bugs, dog bites) or mundane necessity (tax returns to file, routes to plan, bicycles to mend).

Such interruptions lend a happy rhythm to a lengthy journey. They’re the breaths between verse and chorus, the half-time oranges and the gaps between innings, the commas and the colons and the climactic full stops. By contrast, the disruptive pauses are those you don’t foresee, that don’t come with a reason attached. They’re forced upon you not because of illness or injury, nor because you’ve errands to run or tasks to complete. They’re the breaks you take because, simply, you’re tired.



I’ve never been interested in or aware of the mechanics of my own body. Unlike Ruth, a dedicated gym bunny, I’ve never exercised for exercise’s sake. I don’t run and can barely swim. The only sport for which I’ve ever had much facility is cricket, and that as a spin bowler off four lazy paces. The thing I most detested about breaking my hip wasn’t the pain or the immobility, but the incomparable tedium of the exercises required to regain fitness and flexibility.

It’s possible, perhaps probable, that some of the joy I derive from riding a bicycle could be triggered by the type of athletic activity I’ve spent my life avoiding. Perhaps that joy is down to endorphins, or adrenaline, or various other (to me) faintly mystical concepts I’ve never endeavoured to understand. Perhaps it’s all just simple physicality. Perhaps.

I prefer to root the elation elsewhere. It’s about travel and movement, of course, and I’m happiest when I’m moving. There’s always a corner to turn or a hill to climb, something around it or over it to see. But it’s also about independence, about control. Even when with a partner or in a group, riding a bike is a gloriously, unapologetically selfish way to travel. You make the decisions and your body acts on them: turning the bars and the pedals, accelerating and braking, your view unimpeded of the road ahead. You go at your own pace, unassisted, self-sufficient and alone. And you can just keep going.

Which is why the intervention of tiredness – and I mean utter, abject exhaustion, such as caught up with me on Sunday in the thick heat of what should have been an easy ramble through southern Nicaragua – always comes as such a surprise. It doesn’t arrive often; the natural breaks mentioned above tend to keep it at bay. But when it hits, a day off won’t do it. You can’t just keep going.

It’s a reminder of your limitations and your vincibility, that there are still things you can’t control. And that, in turn, is a reminder of another reason why I ride. My parents both died long before their time (my mother at 69, my father a mere 60), and I’ve since developed a certain impatience with the thought of leaving even a day of my own life unlived. Facile it may be, but I struggle to get past a suspicion that a rest day is a wasted day. Granada is a perfectly pleasant town, and our hotel is several cuts above the places we’ve generally been staying. But I’d rather be riding a bike.



After three days of scant activity, that’s what I’ll be doing this morning. Keen to take more Spanish classes and unenthusiastic about skirting the storms of Central America’s rainy season, Ruth’s going to stick around here a while longer, then take a northbound bus. But I’m carrying on, through Nicaragua, across Honduras and into El Salvador. We’ll catch up with each other in Guatemala in about two weeks. Tiredness permitting.

from Granada, Granada, Nicaragua