The Biking Lifeby: Naomi Bloom 6/1/2008
Off On Tour
Finally, summer is upon us. Vacation time! But what with gas prices and airfares soaring through the roof, what's a poor pedaler to do? Why, go touring, of course!
Just what do I mean? I'll let Moni Neville answer for me: "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.
"Touring is about letting go of fears and possessions. . . .Life is easy on the road! One gets to ride one's bike every day. . . .
Moni is one of the growing number of blogging tourers who contribute to Crazy Guy on a Bike. They offer unlimited inspiration to fellow cycletourists and wannabes. Folks like Les Woodland, whose France: help, tips, advice and guidance is right up my allee, so to speak. Originally from England, Ed now lives at the foot of the French Pyrenees. Last month he set out on a solo, self-contained ride from Boston to Seattle. Cycle-camping, he calls it. He figured it would take him 99 days to get there, blogging all the way at Crazy Guy under the title I Want to Be Joy's Toy-Boy. Yeah, you gotta read his explanation! You also gotta read how the rotten roads in Massachusetts cut his trip very short. Lesson learned: Hey, hey, be careful, it's dangerous out there!
Darren Alff, "the Bicycle Touring Pro" has traveled by bike through 29 of the 50 United States, as well as several foreign countries. "I've been able to make seven long distance bicycle trips over the last seven years," he brags. He claims to "have absolutely no idea how many miles/kilometers I have ridden," he says. "Bicycle odometers are great and have a number of uses, but I simply can't stand them on long distance bicycle tours!" And he gives you three reasons to leave yours at home.
His site is chock-a-block with such opinionated -- and practical -- advice, from "How to Pack Your Panniers" to "10 Pieces of Paper You Can't Afford to Leave Home Without." There's also some good reading about Darren's tours and those of a few others, including Worldriders Pat and Cat Patterson about whom I wrote in 2002.
But who says you gotta be a "touring pro" to enjoy touring? Not Rick Madden, whose fleet of bikes reflects his eclectic approach to cycling. When he isn't racing, leading club rides or exploring off-road trails, he sets out on tours north to south, west to east, and for a break, overseas en France. I wrote about Rick's first long-distance tour three years ago.
Where to go?There are so many wonderful places to go bike touring on this planet. Some are quite civilized, rich in history and cultural opportunities while offering the amenities of good roads, polite drivers (what a concept!) and wonderful food and drink. Some are rough-and-tumble backcountry with adventure at every turn. And some are downright bare-bones, proffering lessons in minimalist living.
How to choose? Well, what kind of riding do you prefer to do at home? Start from there and do some armchair touring on the web. A good starting place is on Ray Swartz's Bike Touring Tips, where you can virtually check out almost any country in the world. You can also select topics about everything from maps to equipment to food.
Many dream about circumcycling the globe. I expect that few of us would consider doing so on a penny farthing, like Johh Summerfield.
You can strike out on the road (or off, for that matter) for months on end. Or spend an idyllic weekend soaking up one little corner of the planet. Or something carved out of the vast in-between. Even if you only have one night to spend, it can change your entire perspective on life. Just ask Rivendell's Grant Peterson about his Sub-24 Hour Overnight outings within riding distance of home.
Adventure Cycling has a plethora of links to useful information on how to get started and keep going.
But don't let what may pass for good advice put you off. Bob Morgan's views on Touring vs. Camping claims that "bike touring is primarily on paved roads, whereas bike-camping typically avoids paved roads. In a bike-camping situation, you will find yourself on single-track trails, fire roads, and numerous unpaved surfaces. Therefore, you need a stouter (i.e., heavier) bike for bike-camping."
Poor Bob. Hasn't anyone ever told him that you can go bike camping on a road bike, on paved and well-graded dirt roads? Seems like he and Les Woodland or John Summerfield wouldn't exactly see eye to eye about this.
Of course, it does take a hardy soul to undertake such a tour. Women and men like John, Moni, Les, Darren, Bob and many, many others. As Bob says, "One must do their homework, be prepared, and know what they are getting themselves into when planning a bike-camping tour. Planning and preparation are of utmost importance for anyone planning to bike-camp."
I'd say the same for any kind of tour. Out on or off the road you never know what you're going to run into. It pays to do your research ahead of time. I fear Ray Swartz, for all his "Touring Tips," didn't do quite enough before taking off for France. A vegetarian, he was unaware that peanut butter does not exist there!
But then that's part of the attraction of touring. It's an adventure, and like Ray, you just might discover Nutella (mmm. . . good!). No matter how thoroughly you prepare yourself, you're sure to discover some new unknown. And don't forget the fun factor: Skinny dipping. Exploring caves. Food and drink. Campfire songs. Tall tales.
Going with a group can make the fun exponential, especially if you remember that it's not a race. Michael McGeough of San Jose is known for hammering long, hard miles on weekends, often at the front of the pack. But on tour, as he puts it, "the last one in wins."
"You simply must stop to take pictures of that occasional pronghorn, snake or bison along the road," he insists. "Some people are only concerned with their average speed and miles ridden. I've learned that the best thing to do is be the last one in at the end of the day."
Take enough tours and it won't be long before you too will be eager to share your favorite roads and destinations with others. That's how bloggers -- and tour leaders -- get started. I know; Jim and I have led three small group tours in France, and we're planning another one for next June. Interested? Stay tuned. . .
No matter how you end up soaking up the touring life -- be it solo, with a group of friends or with
a well-known outfitter; overnight, for a weekend, a summer or a "sabbatical" -- I guarantee you'll
have the time of your life. Even when weather, personalities and/or miles seem to be against you,
there's always tomorrow's tailwind to look forward to.
Naomi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org