13 Questions for Andy Levine
Sitting down for a chat with the founder of DuVine Cycling & Adventure Company, Andy Levine.
A strong believer that travel has a way of connecting people, Andy Levine fell in love with travel and exploration at a young age. Years of experience and countless miles of travel later, his passion for connecting people and places has not faded one bit - Quite the countrary.
What is it about traveling that gets you most excited?
My greatest passion is meeting local people. I talk to everyone I can. Especially older people. I learn so much from them - they have time to chat and have so much knowledge. I am also crazy about beautiful roads…the ones that take you to special places that are hard to find.
How did you discover travel? Where did you catch the travel bug?
I was born with the bug. When I was in elementary school, I loved field trips. I’d come home and tell my parents all about it. Once I was so excited, they asked me “if we get in the car, could you show us how to get there?” We went to the school parking lot, and I directed them on how to get to a place that was 45 minutes away! After college, I moved to Europe and biked everywhere on my own. I fell in love with Burgundy, France and the rest is history.
When did you discover cycling?
I started biking when I was around 8 years old. I remember that crazy sense of being free to go anywhere I wanted. And I loved the speed. In college, I was into mountain biking. Road biking came later. Now I do all types: road, mountain, cyclocross and I even have an e-bike for commuting. Being on any type of bicycle is still the greatest day for me.
"Once You Find Yourself Somewhere Far Away... Life Is Pretty Amazing."
Are you more of a cycling for movement and exploration type, or a cycling as a competitive sport type of guy?
100% exploration. I am competitive in exploring. I do wish I had the lungs and legs to be a pro cyclist. But my true passion / skill is exploring.
Some people love cycling, others love traveling. If you had to choose between either cycling or traveling, what would you choose? In other words, where does one end and the other begin, and how does DuVine help bridge that gap?
For me, it has to be the combination – one does not work without the other. I believe everyone should travel by bicycle. It's a different way to experience the world, since it gets you right into the landscape: the cow pastures, the vineyards, the farm roads being tended. That's where DuVine comes in - I believe in the immersive power of bike travel, and I believe everyone can enjoy traveling this way.
Some prefer traveling in a group, others alone. Do you have a preference? Does that change based on where you are?
I enjoy both, but I do believe we always have more fun with other people. It's nice to have time to be introspective when you're riding, but sometimes you can even have those moments to yourself when you're in a group. Group travel is so surprising in the ways that you can learn from others, and that feeling of joy when you click with someone never gets old. It does depend where you are: if you're riding a nice flat vineyard road in Burgundy, it lends itself to thoughtful, easy conversation with your fellow cyclists. But say you're climbing the Furka Pass in Switzerland – it may be a solo experience when you are digging deep on the climb, but once you're on the other side of it, there’s such a shared sense of accomplishment with people who have conquered the same challenges with you!
Of all the destinations DuVine operates, what is the region or city you feel the deepest connection to?
Every trip we run, because I have a special connection with the bike eat drink sleep. But maybe my deepest is with France, Italy, and Turkey. They speak to me either because that's where DuVine first put down roots (in the case of France and Italy), or because I have truly felt the inexplicable magic of the destination (as is the case with Turkey).
Something that frequently comes out in DuVine literature is "your obsession for local characters". What role do locals play in a typical DuVine experience?
Well, our guides are local and the people we visit are local. You can only know a place by the people who live there. Local people, local food, local art, etc. is very important to me and it's DuVine's way of travel. There's an element of the unpredictable and unexpected when you bump into a local and remain open to learning about their life experience. More often than not, these are the moments that you remember above all: not that you saw the famous landmark, but that a nonna spontaneously invited you to come into her home and eat her homemade pasta.
Do you consider yourself one of those characters?
Our guests do not go on tour to be entertained by me. But we do place a lot of stock on hiring guides that have character, because it's important and makes them interesting to travel with. They're chefs, or artists, or PhD scholars, or creative types. They have fascinating personal histories from their prior lives as pro cyclists or journalists, as moms and dads. Check out this video, which I think captures the spirit of who we are
In the cultural and geographical context of a given region, what do you want to showcase in a DuVine tour?
Cycling has elements of realness, of oneness with nature, and of health and wellness. Seeing how those elements are reflected in different cultures and destinations is always an interesting experience for our guests. I've never been into seeing the sites - it's obvious, and there are lots of options for travelers when it comes to experiencing the expected. Instead, DuVine tours seek what's less obvious (and sometimes less tangible). We want our travelers to completely enter into the places that aren't in the guidebooks or on the map. There's an element of luxury, sure, because it's nice to be comfortable. But at the end of the day, DuVine tours are really probing into a region in search of what tells the story of the place and makes it what it is - the environment, heritage, history, traditions, flavors, and people.
It's often said that you cannot fully understand a culture if you do not speak the local language, and if you do not know a culture, you cannot fully speak its language. Do you agree? How does DuVine bridge the gap between guests and locals?
I don’t agree. Through a smile and love you can understand anything. Through food and drink you can understand a space. I think most people around the world want the same things – love, family, to belong, etc. For our guests, we don’t try to bridge the gap. We invite everyone in a room together, and it always seems to work out great.
If you had to choose one place in the world to remain for the rest of your life, where would that be and why?
Somewhere that has both the mountains and the sea. I love the smell of nature. And I love coming up to small villages from a distance, and having a glass of wine or a café and letting time go by.
If someone hasn't traveled before - be it that they are afraid, uninterested or some other reason- what would you say they are missing?
The only thing to fear, is fear itself. Put down your phone, turn off your TV and get on a plane. Once you find yourself somewhere far away, on a bicycle, watch out, life is pretty amazing.