Start Bicycle Touring: Basics
What is bicycle touring?
Bicycle touring refers to using a bicycle to travel long distances carrying whatever gear you believe you need in the process. This section will cover off both what touring is and why people tour. Common concerns like safety, wildlife and weather are discusses as well as how far people actual travel using bicycles. There are numerous ways to tour so a page has been included to give you a sense of the huge variety of touring methods available.
Moni Neville stepped forward to provide her own explanation of what touring is. Moni completed crossing the United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean by bicycle. Here’s what she had to say….
“Touring is about discovering areas while riding my bike either alone or with others. It is seeing a GREAT sunset, sunrise, view or whatever, while out on a sometimes lonely road and marveling about it. Taking the time, to get off the bike, and just look and explore. Talking to strangers, either on the side of the road, at a roadside stand, while visiting a library or in a grocery store. Letting them know, how much you enjoy the time you spend in their area, and realizing how pleased those folks are to find out someone likes it where they live! Touring is about letting go of fears and possesions. Really there is nothing to fear while out riding. There is a nice side in EVERYONE, sometimes it is just hard to find. Possessions, well, all one really needs while touring is what one has on ones bike. Really. All the stuff you have at home is overflow. And, in reality, if someone was to take something off your bike, they might need it more then you. So far I have never missed anything off my bike when I left it parked outside for any length of time. Usually I watch it but not always. Lots of times, I find people, even kids looking my rig over when I return. Nice reason to chat with them and enlighten them about bicycle touring. Touring is also about spending lots of time with my daughter. We tour often together and realize just how much we depend on each other during our trips. Lots of times we finish each others sentences and we share laughs, clothes and shelter. Life is easy on the road! One gets to ride ones bike every day except the days we take as rest days. Even then we get to spend time with our bike cleaning and lubing and such. That is mostly what touring is about for me!” — Moni Neville
Why go on a bicycle tour?
Somehow you’ve heard that people actually travel long distances by bicycle carrying 20, 50 or 100+ pounds of gear. Some of these crazy people actually cross countries, continents and occasionally they go right around the world. All on a bicycle!
Why do they do it? Are they nuts?
Despite your best intentions you’ve found yourself reading this page hoping to understand why people would willingly inflict that level of apparent pain, loneliness and hard work upon themselves. To make it worse from your viewpoint they normally do this during holidays. Some people even take a Leave of Absence or quit their jobs to fulfill this need.
This article is all about touring. The 101 is commonly thought of as meaning an introductory course. In a way the 101 does indeed stand for that in this article but it also stands for the 101+ personal opinions you are going to read from me and others while you work your way through this article. So lets get on to answering those burning questions.
Why do they do it?
Everybody has a collection of reasons for going on a tour. For some it’s the opportunity to explore the countryside at a reasonable speed that allows you to savour every hill, river and wildlife sighting along the way.
For others it’s an opportunity to enjoy some quiet time and get away from the press of everyday life so that when you return you are fully recharged and ready to go once again. Sometimes a tour consists of an opportunity to ride with a group of good friends enjoying adventure together.
Yet another reason that comes to mind is the opportunity to meet people on your travels and get to know them on a more personal level then you would had you driven your car.
Some people just like to ride their bike.
For me touring is all of the above.
I have toured with friends and had a great time sharing an adventure. Other times I have traveled solo around some of the greatest lakes in the world meeting numerous people and having incredible experiences all along the way.
Are they nuts?
I would like the think that what other people call insane we call *“living life to it’s fullest”. * If doing unconventional things that bring you completely alive means carrying a label of insanity then that’s fine with me. Personally I think that the insane ones are those who never push their limits, never do something outside of their safe limits and in the process see life pass them by! Of course so far this has all been my opinion so continue on to the next page to find out what other bicycle tourists had to say!
Quotes from other travelers
I think the physical challenge is most important. The sense of exploration and Adventure satisfies immensely. I could meet as many people at the overnights traveling comfortably by car or RV but I would miss the people opportunities along the way as water and food stops are absolutely essential. Something new, interesting, and a little bit scary is important too. And perhaps really most important at this time I have an interest in things with wheels powered by people and this is merely one aspect of that interest. So this whole interest is one of life’s chance directions? Being in the elements (wind, rain, sun), the smells, and ‘feel of the land’ is important too, part of the experience. Each to our own, I guess!
A huge part of the fun for me is being away from telephones, computers, newpapers and just everything and everyone that I know…. hum…. maybe the kids are right. please send me your extra medication!
I enjoy the challenge, though as we’ve all discovered, touring isn’t a huge physical defiance of one’s limitations, really. It’s more a matter of being prepared for anything and being stubborn enough to keep going. I think the ‘challenge’ aspect is part of why my tours so far have all been ‘around’ something - there’s a goal in mind. I enjoy the escapism. I work in a fairly stressful environment (pager/phone/email 24/7, big business consequences of outages, etc) and really like being ‘out of range’ for a while now and then. I enjoy camping and being out in the big world. Being on a bike, or in a tent, seems so much more blithesome than being inside a car or a house. You see so much more at a bicycle’s speed. And when you get somewhere under your own power, you’ve really gotten there, rather just having arrived. I enjoy navigating and figuring out where to go and what to do based on what’s happening at that moment. Incidentals such as head winds, tail winds, flat tires, broken deraileurs, road construction, or a host of other things beyond your control all influence where I’ll end up that day, and in the long run none of them are really negatives. Why do I tour? It’s complicated, and maybe my reasons for touring will continue to evolve, but I think the above sums it up for me.
— Brian Huntley
I tour because I like to ride my bike, and I like to ride my bike in interesting, new, scenic places. I really like the independence of self-contained touring where (in theory) I can camp anywhere. And I strongly prefer solo touring because I get to set the agenda with very few compromises (totally selfish, some might say). I like being able to travel cheaply, but I also like having enough money to stay in a motel if I feel like it, and having enough money for a restaurant meal every day if a restaurant is on the route. I feel a great sense of accomplishment after doing a multi-day tour with all the movement provided by my own muscles. And I greatly enjoy doing things differently than “the masses” do it (maybe that’s why I like recumbents). I really don’t like highly structured tours, or at least I don’t like tours where the structure is imposed by somebody else. That’s why I have a preference for independent solo touring, and have very little interest in “guided” touring or large group tours of any kind.
To me, bicycle touring is about as close to total self-sufficiency as one can get while having a certain amount of mobility. I suppose the ultimate would be to go someplace and live off the land but that usually puts you into competition with the coyote!
Why do I tour?
I tour because I love every aspect of it.
I like to challenge myself. As I spent most of pre 40’s laying on the couch, my challenge is not severe. I have gone from fat and flabby to reasonably fit recently. I found my desire to tour more effectively was more of an inspiration to get in shape than worrying about the long term consequence of fat and flabby. Now I feel I could tour forever if life permitted. Last year I wanted to cut the cost of touring and up the physical challenge so I migrated from the credit card group to the fully loaded group.
This is an enjoyable activity when it is too cold to ride. I pour over maps and read every journal of anyone who has toured the areas I have selected. The journals are inspirational and informative. If there is one thing that “got me going” it was the online journals. Now that I have some experience on the road, I plan in great detail and then use it as a rough guide once I am on the road.
Roads that I have never traveled have great appeal.
Bicycle Touring Methods
Humans seem to like to categorize things. Like with so many other activities people have also tried to categorize touring. Some people even attempt to state that a particular type of touring is the one and only true way to tour. In reality I believe that while there are some general statements that can be made for touring there really is no “right” one other then the one that you yourself enjoy. However since you are reading this as a presumably potential bicycle tourist I’ll list some of the major designations that often come up.
Paid touring adventures and sag wagon touring
This category usually refers to people who ride with a touring company. Often the cyclists pay a fee and in exchange the route is preplanned for them and their non-bicycle equipment is carried for them in a motorized vehicle. The motorized vehicle is referred to as a sag wagon.
Sometimes these tours include paid guides in addition to the preplanned route maps. Often breakfast and supper are provided with the expectation that lunch will be discovered by the cyclist on the open road.
Another variation of this type of tour is for a family member or a friend to drive the sag wagon to each day’s destination while the cyclist follows the route they have planned for the day.
Credit card or lightly loaded touring
Credit card or lightly loaded touring generally refer to a type of touring where the cyclist carries minimal gear on the bike. Usually the gear consists of some clothing and repair tools. At the end of each day the cyclist finds a motel or other lodging. Meals are consumed in restaurants, sub shops and deli’s along the way. Of course the name “credit card touring” comes from the implied use of credit cards to cover the lodging and meals.
Self contained/fully loaded touring
Self contained or fully loaded touring is a type of touring where all needed equipment is carried on the bike. This includes shelter, cooking equipment, bicyle repair tools, maps, food and anything else that the cyclist feels is necessary to make their journey a success. Fully loaded bikes can weigh anywhere from 50 to 100+ pounds when fully loaded.
From the wikipedia:
Differs from credit card touring in that the rider is self-sufficient but carries only the bare essentials and no frills.
Doing the distance…. Just how far do people ride their bikes anyway?
A tour can be anything from a short and laid back two day, 50 km (or less) adventure right through to a multiple week, month or year journey encompassing thousands or tens of thousands of kilometers.
Crazyguyonabike is a website that focuses on giving bicycling tourists an easy way to share their journeys with others. There are journals residing on the website about tours in all different parts of the world.
By looking around at the journals on crazyguyonabike.com you will quickly discover weekend trips and cross country adventures all sharing the same peaceful web space.
A little bit more searching on the internet will reveal cycling tourists who have been out circling the world for tens of thousands of kilometers and 30+ years. Here’s one example:
Isn’t it dangerous?
This is a very common question that many people ask when they first hear that people are touring on bicycles. For me the answer is an emphatic no. Personally I think taking a shower is more dangerous on an ongoing and regular basis. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to consider so let’s discuss them a bit.
1. Violent crime, muggings etc
I find that most of the time when travelling by bicycle I tend to avoid the major cities where crime is much more likely to be an issue. This avoidance isn’t generally performed out of fear of attack but rather a desire to get out into the open country, view the beautiful scenery and get away from the scenes that most of us see on a daily basis.
Having said that I will quickly admit that when forced to travel through some major cities like Cleveland, Ohio, USA and Detroit, Michigan there were a few tense moments. When travelling through Cleveland there was a minor incident near the harborfront that could easily have been avoided with a little bit more situational awareness on my part. As it was I wasn’t hurt, no theft or other crime occurred and I experienced a bit of an adventure. Detroit was more about the hype of the city then any particular incident that happened in that city.
In reality travelling anywhere on bicycle often feels safer then when you are insulated away from the world in a car. You meet many more people and get a sense for the vibe of a place.
2. Distance from repair shops
Learning how to repair or jury-rig your bicycle is something that definately should be considered when planning your tours. The repair section of this article will discuss this in more detail but I believe that there are four very common critical problems that tend to occurr on a touring bicycle.
- Flat tires
- Broken spokes
- Destroyed rim
- Blown out tube
- Chain breaking
Although there are definately other types of problems that can occurr it is surprising how well you can fix most of them using duct tape, tie wraps, some patience and a few minutes of careful thought.
Some people think of these problems as disasters. I prefer to think of these as “adventures” since I almost always come out of the incident
knowing far more then before the problem occurred.
Of course these problems can be prepared for in advance by reading a good repair book,
taking a bicycle repair course, performing routine maintenance on your bike or playing around with an old beater bike.
You don’t have to wait for a problem to occur you know!
3. Distance from medical aid
Let’s pretend for a moment that you live by yourself. Suppose you got up early in the morning after a late night programming on your computer. Just barely awake you slip while stepping into the shower. In the process of falling down you become severely injured. How likely is it that someone will be able to help you in a very short period of time?
Now contrast this with a touring bicycle. You are generally riding on roads that see at least some traffic on a regular basis. Of the two situations which one will allow people to at least notice you in difficulty first?
For proactive reasons I always carry a first aid kit in an easily accessible outside pocket on my front right saddlebag. I carry this kit in case I need it to help myself or to aid others. Just like with bike repair you can prepare to some extent by learning about first aid.
Personally I intend to take a Wilderness first aid course soon to continue to expand my knowledge.
4. Dangerous animals - Lions, tigers and bears
Beginning tourists often seem to worry about wild animals.
For me personally my scariest encounter with wild life while on tour occured at around 2:00 AM in Geneva State Park in Ohio. On that tour I was using a hammock for my shelter. A racoon ran underneath the hammock brushing against my spine in the process. Definately gave me a quick wake up call! I’ve seen bears on tour but so far they’ve run away from me faster then I’ve been pedalling away from them (which was usually quite fast (grin). According to the statistics there have been around 36 humans killed by bears in the past fifty years. From reading touring journals I know that snakes etc are a concern when riding in Australia.
5. Adverse weather - Rain, snow, sleet, hail etc
Everyone seems to worry about the weather. I find that when I am on a long tour I don’t concern myself too much with the weather forecast. Instead I carry the appropriate gear, whether it’s rain gear or clothing for hot and cold conditions. Perhaps I’ve been lucky but so far I’ve found that on tour I typically experience very little rain during the day. Most rain seems to arrive at night. As an example I experienced two half days of rain during my Round Lake Huron tour despite travelling for 21 days.
There’s a saying that goes something like, “If you don’t like the weather ….. wait 15 minutes”. I’ve found that this is often the case on a bicycle tour too. This isn’t so much just because the weather does change through the course of the day but also because on a bike you are travelling fast enough to be able to navigate around or beyond most storms leaving them to finish off their nastiness at night.
Visualizing a bicycle touring adventure
Many web sites including this one try to explain bicycle touring. In many ways it is a very diificult task because bicycle touring is so many different things to so many different people.
One common way to showcase bicycle touring is to scatter pictures from previous tours throughout the web pages. In this way you convey useful information about bicycle touring while also allowing people to get a glimpse of some of the incredible things you will see and experience during bicycle tours. Typically web sites seem to be around 85% text and 15% pictures. This is great for conveying lots of meaningful information.
At least one web site is doing things a little bit differently. Their web site is 85% images and 15% text. The site’s goal is to try to let you visualize the feeling of travelling by bike. The site is well designed with what felt like fast loading times to me.
The best part is that you can sit back in your chair and just watch the slideshow as the pictures change. You will see many beautiful pictures of places all over the world. If you go one step further and release your imagination then it won’t take much to actually see yourself riding the roads and paths shown in the visual display.
The web site I am referring to is called Impressions from bicycle travels Go ahead and make a visit. You might just be surprised at how enjoyable the site is and how well it conveys some of what bicycle touring is all about! Once you’ve checked out the web site feel free to come back and obtain some more information from the Bike Touring World website about how to Get Started with your first bicycle touring adventure
Paul Stockton’s First Fully Loaded/Self-Contained bicycle touring adventure
I did my first fully loaded tour in 1995. At that point I had been cycling all my life, and cycling with the Toronto Bicycling Network for ten years.
I was also publishing comic books. The big comic book convention is in San Diego every year. My partner in the comic business lived in the Bay Area, so I would fly to San Francisco, spend a few days at his place, and then our whole crew would head down to the convention.
Every year we would use a different mode of transportation to get there. One year we flew. One year we rented a van. One year we took the train. So I suggested that next time we go by bicycle. My friend, who was the artist on one of our comics, and who had worked as a bicycle courier, thought this was a great idea. But since he was an artist, in the end he flaked out on me.
Having never done bicycle touring before, I was nervous about going it alone, so I starting looking around to see if there was a company that did a tour from San Francisco to San Diego. I found exactly what I wanted from Youth Hostels of America. They did a three week tour from San Fracisco to San Diego. They provided a leader, but it was fully loaded. No support vehicle. It was a combination of hostels and campgrounds, and the participants would share in the cooking duties.
It took me a long time to get my company to agree to let me have three weeks off in a row. But I finally got my vacation approved, and I signed up for the trip. Then, a month before the trip was to start, I got a call from YHA. They were cancelling the trip, because only three people had signed up.
I didn’t know what to do at this point. Then, a couple of days later, I got a call from a guy named Mark. He had been one of the other guys to sign up. He had asked YHA for the numbers of the other people, to see if we wanted to do the trip ourselves. He said he had talked to the third guy, Richard. Richard had done loaded touring on YHA trips in France and Switzerland. Great, we thought, he can show us the ropes. So the three of us decided to go ahead with the trip.
By this point I had already been doing research. I had picked up Rob van der Plas’ Bicycle Touring Manual. I had gotten the Adventure Cycling Maps. And I had gotten Kirkendall and Spring’s Bicycling the Pacific Coast. Mark had gotten the itinerary from YHA, and they pretty much followed K&S.
A couple of days before my flight, I loaded up my bike for the first time, and rode it around the block. Then I packed it up. I met up with Mark and Richard in the hostel in San Fransisco, and we headed down the coast.
The first day was a 25 mile ride to the Montara lighthouse, which had been turned in to a hostel. Despite the unsual heat wave that had hit San Fracisco, and the big climb up to Devil’s Slide (which had just reopened a couple days before after being buried under a mudslide for five months), I discovered that bicycle touring isn’t difficult. If you can ride a bike you can do loaded touring.
We averaged about 45 miles a day, staying in hostels the first few nights, before hitting our first campground in Monterey. I learned that you should learn how to use your stove at home before leaving on your tour, when I set the picnic table on fire.
With the hiker/biker sites in the state parks, the west coast is a great place to do your first tour. And there are plenty of other cyclists doing the route, so you’re always meeting new people.
We took our time, and checked out the sights along the way. Cannery Row, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, the mission in Santa Barbara. We saw wild life: elephant seals, dolphins, and killer squirrels. When we got to LA, we stayed at my aunt and uncle’s, and at the end of the tour, at my friend’s in San Diego, which was a nice change of pace.
The biggest lesson I learned was that, if you arrange to to a tour with someone you’ve never met, be aware that you might not be compatible with them, On the other hand, they could turn out to be a great guy. But if you find them annoying, don’t get upset; learn to laugh at their foibles.
— Submitted by Paul Stockton
Walt Ebbert’s first bicycle touring adventure
Back when I was a kid I can recall many times when I would expand my personal horizon by going just a bit further and checking that unknown street just beyond my current boundary. As time passed I gradually came to know all the streets within five miles of home.
I met Walt Ebbert recently during a business trip to Florida. We shared some riding time and over dinner one day Walt told me about his first bicycle touring adventure.
Walt was also a kid who enjoyed seeing what waited for him just around the bend. One day he noticed an interesting commercial on tv and decided that he wanted to go and see the place in person. Being a responsible kid he of course asked his father. His father laughingly gave him permission most likely believing that it would never happen.
Later that same day an eleven year old Walt and his trusty bicycle headed out on a 115+ mile journey to find the company that was advertised on tv. When darkness appeared he curled up in a roadside playground and slept through the night. Walt lived among many relatives so his parents were not initially too concerned about his whereabouts until a phone call to all of the nearby family members failed to locate him.
Meanwhile Walt kept touring. The next day he reached his destination and once again being a responsible kid he called home collect to ask his dad to come and pick him up.
When his relieved parents arrived his father immediately promised to give him a “whuppin” unless he had a good explanation for his journey (Editor - as an adult it isn’t hard to imagine that the poor father had been listening to an irate mother throughout the long ride to pick Walt up which likely only added to his own fears).
Walt of course pointed out that his dad had given him permission to take the trip (Editor - This is the part that makes me laugh. I can only imagine the glare that the father received from the mother - Hee Hee Hee).
Walt reports that no “whuppin” was administered and that following this adventure his father was much more cautious about what he gave permission for Walt to do!
A married couple’s first bicycle touring experience
One of the goals of the Bike Touring World web site is to help cyclists who are new to bicycle touring. This web site contains a steadily increasing collection of articles and pictures about bicycle touring but I am always looking to increase the amount of information that other’s have to help them prepare for their first bicycle touring adventure.
I recently learned about a web site where a couple discussed a number of their bicycle touring adventures including their very first bicycle tour. I have a weakness for reading other people’s online journals so I headed on over.
This journal was quite enjoyable, excellently written and well worth the visit!
Here are just two of my favourite quotes:
“I started thinking, “what the heck have I gotten myself into!”. This was way too difficult and uncomfortable for a person of my abilities and upbringing. After all my energy was drained by constantly pedalling uphill and still no eatery in sight, I decided it was time to call it a day and backtrack. And backtrack, we did. Thats when I realized the value of what I had. Narayan, who is usually the “never quit. Just slug it out” type, agreed to go back to the campground as soon as he realized that I didn’t have any energy left. He had always been more enthusiastic about bike touring than I. I was really floored by his concern/consideration for me when he didn’t suggest even once that we continue.I knew that biking the entire stretch of Galiano meant a great deal to him. I realized that me being happy and comfortable meant more to him than seeing Galiano. He was prepared to curb his enthusiasm for my sake and return. “
“I kept repeating the little “engine” song that Narayan taught me the previous night - “I think I can..I think I can” - until I finally did it. It felt very good reaching the top.”
Sprinkled throughout the rest of their journal about their three day tour are all kinds of tips about things they learned during the tour that they felt would also help others as well as themself during their next bicycle touring adventure.
Here are just a few of them. To see the entire list you’ll just have to go and read their journal! (grin).
- Never quit - Grind up, walk up, fly up - Do anything but quit. You will feel much worse quitting than actually toughing it out.
- Never plan your adventure around provincial camp spots. Having fun is priceless.
- Wrapping a rain tarp on the tent and closing the tent completely will allow condensation inside the tent resulting in wet sleeping pads in the morning.
- Carrying lots of food with you is never a bad thing.
- Bike touring is a lot of fun!
Matthew Jarvis’s first bicycle touring adventure
Having trashed my legs in a climbing accident 5 years ago, cycling has been my salvation and long distance touring is where I want to be. A woman is doing a tour that is coming thru Eugene on her way south and I hope to ride a few days with her, so wanted to get some practical experience before committing to the open road.
In order to test out my self, my bike and my gear, I wanted to do my first overnight tour relatively close to home, somewhere along the lines of 35-50 miles. Of all the choices I had, I decided to take a stab at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground called Alsea Falls, Oregon.
I’ve been there before, several years ago, and I had talked a buddy who was with me that time to meet me there while I rode out on my bike. He would bring all of the heavy stuff like ice and beer along with his load of conveniences just to make the weekend nicer. I brought all the gear that I would “need” to have if I were on my own, I just wanted to use his bigger stuff since there were two of us.
Originally planned as just a Saturday overnighter, I figured that leaving Friday would give us a good chance at a campsite, and it was raining that day so I was hoping that people would be staying home. As I stood next to my bike, dressed for the ride, bike fully loaded and prepped, I called my buddy and said we’re going.
When I left town around 2:45 Friday it was raining rather hard and some wind gusts. I tried to convince myself that it was a good omen, so off I went.
My route took me north through Junction City, then bypassing Hwy 99 as much as possible until just south of Monroe. Very nice leaving out River Road, north thru Junction City on Oakela, west out Cox Butte Road to Washburn, north to Hulbert Lake Road, to Hwy 99 about 2 miles south of Monroe. Up to this point (except the part of River Road in Eugene) it was incredible, the rain had mostly subsided though I had some really strong headwinds.
The stretch along 99 to Monroe was really scary. No shoulder. Although light traffic it was just an ugly place to be. Our old climbing mantra was ‘there is safety in speed’, so I tried to just press through this ugliness as quick as possible. Not fun.
About a quarter mile north of Monroe I took Alpine Cutoff Road out to Alpine Road proper and proceed the 5 or so miles to the thriving metropolis of Alpine, population about 50. The bar was open but the store was closed - bummer. I had wanted to restock my water bottles and grab some Gatorade, but didn’t feel like trying to do so at the local tavern. I took a 10 minute break with some trail mix and water, then off I went - the sign said 9 miles to the campground.
At this point, I should mention that my friend and I have been having an on going discussion about whether or not there was a big hill between Alpine and the campground. My mapping software said there was, but neither of us had any recollection at all of there being any large hills out there. I thought I had made an errant squiggly line or something and the software was just plain wrong.
Mental note: trust the mapping software !!
There is a hill there. Oh-my-god-there-is-a-hill-there!
A mile or two out of Alpine the road starts to climb up into the coast range - according to the now-trusted software it’s approx 1100’ in about 2.5 miles - or close to 10.5% grade. As I saw it coming I said to myself ‘uh-oh - here we go’ and managed a few hundred yards, then decided to just bail and walk the bike up. I neglected to activate the altimeter on my watch - an oversight I would regret later.
So I started pushing my bike up the hill.. and pushed.. and pushed. a panel van drives by, I wave, no response. I push and push… then about 20 minutes later the van starts coming back down the hill and going slow as though he’s not sure of his brakes or something, but it turns out he wants to chat. As I stood there, dressed in cycling shorts and my bright yellow Burley jacket, holding onto a touring bike with a Bob trailer, not a house in since-forever, sweat pouring off my body as I tortured myself going up that hill - this Einstein asks me “Hey - are you from around here? Where is Foster Road” Instead of telling him to go to hell or saying “I’ll show you - it’s up the hill - can I load up my bike????” I told him I thought it was back towards Alpine a few miles, and off he went..
Something I’d never done a lot of before was walk around in my clipless shoes (Nike ACG) - great shoes on a bike, lousy shoes walking uphill.. My heels started to blister up and just got worse and worse with each step I took.
I huffed and puffed my way up to the top, found a spot to have a heart attack and die, and rested for a few minutes. I was now down to about half a bottle of water so the place better be close.
I zipped up my jacket and started down the other side of this thing - according to the software I was going to drop close to 600’ before the campground. It’s a beautiful road, tree lined, winding, my problem was when I took a break I was too tired to realize that due to clouds, trees etc it was pretty darned dark on the road now, plus it was wet, covered in pine needles in places (usually the corners), and I am at the limits of my physical endurance. I had neglected to swap out my dark lenses for the clear ones, and that was one adrenaline filled ride down. I kept my speed below 22 or so since this was the first time going down anything big or fast with the trailer, and I couldn’t see squat in front of me. Common sense would have been to put on the right eyewear, but I was too far gone at that point.
Mental note: when feeling rushed and tired, that’s a perfect time for a payday candy bar and a break. I should have known better.
I careened down the other side, passing a small camping symbol tacked to a tree. I kept going and going, a white knuckled descent that I could barely see.. I killed a chipmunk (sorry about that little fella) and then realized that I didn’t remember much of any descent or distance to speak of on the mapping software before coming to the campground. Oh. my.. God - I MISSED IT!
I thought, I’d have to schlep my sorry butt back up the hill almost as far as before!!!. Although traffic was extremely sparse, I figured I’d keep going down until it leveled out and try and get a ride back up if need be.. Sure enough, another mile or so and I saw a sign - Alsea Falls - 2 miles.. Thank You God!
What a wonderful stretch of road as you approach the campground. I arrived at the campground around 6:30pm (it had taken me an hour to get up that hill) and looked for my friend who should be there setting up camp. He’s nowhere to be found and all the campsites are full.. Uh-oh. Sure I had the gear to set up camp if need be, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend the waning hours of daylight doing so.
I spied a young couple with a couple mtn bikes on the roof of their car and asked if I could hang out with them until my friend showed up. I explained the situation and the young woman mentioned that the folks in the next site over were in a group camp, there weren’t that many people in the group, and there was all sorts of room over there. She went over and talked to the woman in charge, next thing I know I’m being invited into their camp. (As I found out thru the weekend, about 1/3 of the people there had seen me pushing my bike up the hill as they passed me on the way to the campground)..
My buddy finally arrives, we set up a mini camp and enjoy some sandwiches as it got dark. Then we joined our hosts at the campfire and listened to the two teenage boys be teenage boys for the evening. Were we all that obnoxious at that age?
The next morning it turned out that a site had opened up and we jumped on it. We thanked our hosts for their generosity and moved our camp over to the new digs. Saturday consisted of food, the campfire and beer - for about 14 hours..
If I hadn’t had such nasty blisters on my feet I would have bitten the bullet and walked back up and over the hill - after all, it was only 600’ this time instead of 1100’. But in addition to that issue I was nervous about returning along my original route and going back down that short portion of Hwy 99 - it really twigged me out so I really wanted to avoid it if possible. Luckily my buddy was kind enough to give me and my gear a ride back down to where Hulbert Lake Rd meets Hwy 99, and so I had a rather short (20 mile) but pleasant ride back to Eugene in about 90 degree temps. The entire trip was 59.5 miles..
Re-think how I pack the Bob Dry Sack. Yes it’s really huge, but the only way to seal it is fold the top two flaps over and buckle them down. Turns out this eats up a lot of space you think you may have with that huge bag. As an ex-climber, my gear doesn’t get much smaller or lighter, so something’s gotta go or figure out how much to lash onto the outside. it’ll take a while to ponder this one.
Next time I have to climb a really big hill, take the time to swap shoes for the Tevas and be sure to keep them handy in case I need to do so.
I knew having too much weight in the handle bar bag caused problems, but that 1 liter platypus I stuck in there before the ride was a real PITA. When I drained it into the first water bottle I polished off things improved dramatically. Next time, just carry the thing lashed to the trailer or in the rack trunk - keep that handlebar bag as light as possible.
Steve Varley’s first bicycle tour
I had liked the idea of bicycle touring for a long time. I don’t know why but the thought of self-supported adventure, independence, on-your-own, really appealed to me. I have been on many tours over the years. I’ve crossed Utah and Wyoming many times on organized tours. When I did that, I wondered how a person could carry everything they need on the bike. It was hard enough just getting through the 60 or 90 miles on a bike with just a tool kit and a wind breaker.
A few years ago there was a newspaper article about a guy from the East who toured the most rural Nevada routes he could find. He wrote about pedaling through these small towns and talking to folks along the way. That sounded just right to me. Later I talked to a guy who rode Highway 50 across Nevada; “The Loneliest Highway in the US”. What a romantic thought. Well, this all took a couple of years but I eventually thought if I’m ever going to do this I’ve got to set a date and get ready. So I did. I set it on June 2002.
Committing to the time set off a rash of decision-making and information gathering. I poured over maps with a calculator. Made lists. Weighed articles of equipment and clothing. I actually had a spreadsheet of water supply and consumption so I would know how much I needed to carry each day and how much it would weigh. Well? This was June in Nevada!
From this group I got several important ideas about touring on a bike. You don’t have to have a great bike, you’ll probably have a better time if you’re prepared, and you’re going to be sorry if you don’t think about weight. I had finished a supported tour across Utah one year and we were hanging around drinking a few beers and I noticed a bike that had just completed the “self-supported” version of the tour. These 12 or so people had taken the most scenic, toughest country, toughest hills, route from southern Utah and I was staring at an old 2 chain ring bike loaded with everything you’d need if you were backpacking for a week! I was pondering just how much more that bike weighed than my bike, a tandem that year, when someone told me the bike I was staring at belonged to a young woman!
My preparations during the last month before the trip consisted almost entirely of re-thinking everything I was taking and reducing the load. Instead of thinking “I’ll need that” I was thinking “I might be able to get away with not taking this and I can make do with this instead if necessary”. My goals were to camp as much as possible; I hate sleeping in motels; and I like to eat well. To be sure there was a certain style that I wanted to maintain. I wanted my glass of wine with dinner and I don’t like too much freeze dried food. Looking back on the trip I took far more than I needed but hey, it was my first tour.
My wife and son dropped me off in Carson City, Nevada during the middle of June and at six the next morning I put the bike together and pedaled off. I had a really nice week pedaling “The Loneliest Highway”. It’s stark and beautiful, almost pre-historic out there. I ran across several other tourers too. There was an Austin Healey rally and I saw vintage cars almost everyday. Lots of groups of motorcycles touring too. There was no shortage of people experiencing the “loneliness of the highway”. No bicyclists. From talking to people I understood that we were all heading East so we never met. The drivers were all very polite. Even when they passed at 80 mph they gave me plenty of room.
I finished my week-long tour with a good knowledge of highway shoulders, a healthy respect for all of the hills I’d climbed, a solid satisfaction in my accomplishment, and a feeling that I liked this, mostly, a lot. My wife picked me up at the end and drove me home. It was actually hard to acclimatize myself back to normal living after my week of life on the road. A satisfied customer!
The Long Ride Home
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like
— Queen, “Bicycle Race”
Tour de Brad, my first solo, loaded bike expedition is less than one week away, and I am petrified. My fears, I tell myself, are both natural and rational. After all, as I often explain to my naïve and sometimes-bigoted high-school English students, xenophobia is fear of the strange or unknown. A blissful life without apprehension, I continue, can only be acquired through the accumulation of knowledge, wisdom, and experience. And that, class, is why we need to learn how to teach ourselves and each other, respect our fellow human beings, and conjugate verbs.
In this spirit, I have spent much of my limited free time over the past six months researching and planning for my two-wheeled adventure; I still, however, hunger for more just-in-case knowledge. During this period, I have also scrimped and saved and spent on a bevy of new gear; even now, though, I can’t shake the sense that I’m forgetting something. I’ve also been going to the gym three, five, sometimes seven days a week for cardiovascular and functional strength training; I’m in pretty good shape at this point, but I worry my body will fail me when subjected to the rigors of consecutive, daylong rides.
Yes, for almost one-hundred-eighty-two days and nights, I have harbored dreams and nightmares about spinning in and out of Flagstaff, Arizona under my own power; now that my departure date is imminent, I can’t even sleep through the night. I am anxious. I am fearful. I am afraid of the unknown: Despite all of my careful planning and preparation, this trip will remain a mystery until I actually pedal out of town, my life distilled into a few water bottles, a rack trunk, and a yawning dry bag stowed in a small trailer.
Unfortunately, this kind of explanation does little to appease my friends and family, who don’t quite know what to think. When I describe the trip to them, all that most can muster is a condescending “Well . . . that sounds . . . um . . . great.” I can tell the concept of a bike tour has never crossed their minds, and, though there are exceptions, they, too, fear the unknown. Some of them also fear for me.
My mother, no surprise, and my landlord, who would really like me to survive the trip and continue my tenancy, are among the most vocal of my pessimistic supporters:
— “Braddy,” Mom says. “You’re going to sleep in hotels along the way, right?”
— “No, Mom. Not if I can help it.”
— “What about formal campsites?”
— “Nope. That’ll blow my budget if I do it too often.”
— “Oh, great! So you’re just going to pitch a tent on the side of the road where anyone can see you, stop and kill you, and take all your stuff!”
— “Yes, Mother, that’s the plan. Actually, I was thinking the median would be better than the side of the road. That way, psychos and kidney thieves going in either direction can take their shot. Ah, that reminds me: Do you know my blood type?”
— “Very funny—“
— “No, I’m serious—“
— “Right. What about food?”
I go on to explain that I’ll carry dehydrated backpacking rations, buy groceries and staples along the way, and gorge myself at every all-you-can-eat dive I find. I also explain that, if I do camp near the road, I’ll head far off the beaten path to a secluded spot where no one is likely to stumble upon my site. Besides, I continue, when I pass through a town, I can always ask locals about good spots to pitch a tent; for all I know, that will land me in a municipal park, if not someone’s guest room or back yard.
Obviously, I don’t know about these possibilities through first-hand experience. However, an open mind, a modicum of outdoors savvy, and plenty of research into the myths and realities of extended trekking have given me faith that everything will unfold exactly as it needs to. That faith, in turn, gives me hope. And, to avoid sounding evangelical, let’s leave love out of it and just say that my faith and hope mitigate my fears. They have to. Otherwise, I would have no choice but to spend the rest of my summer vacation basking in the sickly glow of modern convenience, lulled to sleep each night by the quiet, sticky purr of convention.
Although I have no choice but to believe the trip will go smoothly, many of those around me do not share my faith—in themselves, their fellow man, or Mother Nature. My mom and her boyfriend, for example, think I should just drive from place to place, sleeping and eating at safe, reliable franchises: Why can’t you just spend an afternoon at the Grand Canyon? They give wonderful tours, you know, and there’s a shuttle you can take from the parking lot. Why don’t you stay at this nice resort we saw near Zion National Monument? It’s bound to be much safer than camping, and they have a full-service spa! If you want to go to the Telluride Jazz Festival so badly, why not save yourself a bunch of time and energy and just drive there? You know, you’ll never make it back from Telluride in time to start work again . . . .
My mom and her boyfriend, like so many others, are missing the point. They just don’t understand. To be fair, though, I’m not sure that I do either. Just what is the point? What is it that drives a 31-year old man (or anyone else, for that matter) to voluntarily spend four weeks of so-called vacation pedaling around on what, to many, is merely a child’s toy? To spend a month eating one-pot meals, sleeping on the ground, all—horror of horrors—without a television?
One thing I do know is this trip, despite my initial intentions, is not about frugality. The amount of cash I’ve sunk into this endeavor could have already paid for a tropical Club Med vacation to make momma proud and ignite the jealousy of loved ones and strangers alike. The only thing that consoles me is the fact that I’ll be well equipped for my next outing, be it based on biking, hiking, camping, or climbing.
My first purchase for this trip was a set of route maps from the Adventure Cycling Association: I bought the Grand Canyon Connector, which extends from Tucson, Arizona to Cedar City, Utah, and all four sections of the Western Express, which runs from San Francisco, California to Pueblo, Colorado. Next, having read that panniers or saddlebags might adversely affect the balance and handling of my bike, I acquired a BOB, or Beast of Burden, bike trailer. Unfortunately, since the day my BOB arrived, I’ve been fighting a bad case of GAS, also known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I bought the damned trailer and was subsequently consumed by an almost moral imperative to fill it up.
The floodgates opened, and dollar after dollar was washed away. Padded bike shorts, wicking jerseys. A bicycle computer to monitor speed and mileage on commutes and weekend training rides. A water purifier, an ultra-light stove, a free-standing tent for one. Gear repair materials. A new medical kit. A point-and-shoot camera so I can leave behind my trusty but laborious manual SLR. Arm and leg warmers, long-fingered cycling gloves, and ear protection for those chilly mountain nights and cool desert mornings. Collapsible water tanks. Lightweight chamois to replace bulky terrycloth. For the bike, new and spare tires, tubes, spokes, and cables, plus a few other new parts to give me low enough gears that I won’t have to hop off my bike and pull it—along with my glorious collection of new paraphernalia—up mountain passes and molehills alike.
The list above could go on, but, as I keep having to remind myself, this trip is not about gear. It’s about something else. Something more important. Something more abstract, less concrete, lying in the shadows like a dog that hasn’t crawled under the porch to die, but to make itself well. I am that dog, this trip is my metaphysical porch, and I will emerge from the darkness healthier than I was before.
My illness is one that most modern worker bees share: I am afflicted by time. As a public-school teacher, I spend ten months of my year at the beck and call of my students, my administrators, and my professional conscience. 12-hour days and six or seven-day workweeks are not uncommon. By the time I see to the demands and desires of my bosses (from local principals to the federal government), my 180 individual clients (students, at least half of whom I meet with daily), and my clients’ supervisors (their parents and guardians), there is little time or energy left for me. Teaching is a soul sapping, usually thankless vocation. It often leaves me feeling empty inside, an automaton created only to serve the whims and needs of others. This trip, however, is an opportunity to change that, if only for a few weeks. Once I hit the road, I will be free to be selfish again, to relax and recharge—however, whenever, and wherever I see fit. Road time is my time, and I will return from my trip better. Faster. Stronger. We can rebuild him. We have the technology.
Most of my gear, bike included, has admittedly been spawned by the march of technology, but my personal healing process depends on avoiding certain trappings of modern life. Most of us spend considerable time hiding behind shields of concrete, glass, and steel: the homes we live in, the buildings we work in, and the cars that are so indispensable in the age of urban sprawl, when few communities are built to the scale of the pedestrian or cyclist. It makes me feel detached. Disconnected. Disoriented. Like some trepidatious Gollum who hides in his cavernous lair for fear of encountering sun, moon, or denizens of the earth. The allure of biking—and other outdoor activities—is that engaging with Nature on her terms allows me to feel part of the world again.
Inside an automobile, circumstances of climate and geography yield to other, more pressing concerns like poor radio reception or the unease of rocketing along with only a quarter-tank of gas. On a bike, however, every incline is felt, every bump is known, and every inch is earned. The wind, excluded from the consciousness of the car borne, can become a friend’s soothing reassurance, a bitter enemy’s violent shove, or a lover’s tender caress to the cyclist.
A bike is also an efficient and relatively simple machine. If stranded in the desert or the mountains with a broken down, one ton, fuel-injected marvel of modern engineering and a beat-up old bicycle, it is the bike that I would take odds on being able to make roadworthy again. The bike is also the machine I’d rather hump out of the wasteland—or leave behind in it—if I couldn’t make the repairs or find the right kind of fuel. I find it reassuring, empowering even, that I, myself, am the right kind of fuel for a bicycle.
Although a single, easily digestible rationale for my trip remains elusive, my departure date does not. It is coming for me, and the thought makes me grin. An endurance athlete once explained that he runs marathons because it feels so good to stop. Although I may share his sentiment by the end of my adventure, my real finish line is the moment I begin my journey. At that point, I can stop running through the repetitive maze of everyday life and be surprised again. I can stop being ruled by the rhythm of alarm clocks and bell schedules and downtown traffic; I can instead heed the rhythm of the open road, the outdoors, and my own internal timepiece. I can finally cease my thinking and planning and waiting and simply ride, simply be for a spell.
So what, exactly, is the point of my impending journey? The definitive answer, if there is one, awaits me on the pavement, in the desert, through the woods, over the mountains. It may come as early as next week, maybe next year, and perhaps not for another lifetime. Until that answer arrives, however, I look forward to pedaling, smiling, into the unknown.
— Submitted by Brad Kamradt