Riding across North America was an excellent 4,000 mile warm-up for the next segment of our adventure. It was here, in a place where we could comfortably and easily communicate and had almost immediate access to anything we wanted or needed, that we learned the sport of bicycle touring. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we originally set out, but it didn't take long to figure it out. Here's my list of discoveries that we didn't entirely expect:
Spare time. You'd expect we'd have a ton of free time everyday because all we're doing is riding our bikes and, of course, one cannot ride all of the hours in a day. Well, we quickly realized that our days were jam packed from the time we woke up to the time we went to bed and sadly the couple of hours of daily reading, writing or just hanging out we were hoping for did not always exist. Here's what a typical day was like for us. Obviously there were many variations, but more or less it went something like this:
6:30-7 -- alarm goes off and we try to wake ourselves up.
7-8:30 -- get dressed, make breakfast, clean up cooking supplies, pack up camp and get on the road.
8:30-10 -- ride
10-10:30 -- snack, talk to people and stop at a gas station to wash our clothes from the day before if we didn't have running water at camp.
10:30-12 -- ride
12-1 -- lunch and talk to people
1-3 -- ride
3-3:30 -- snack and talk to people
3:30-anywhere between 5 and 7 -- ride, stop at a store to get dinner supplies and look for a place to camp.
7-9 -- set up camp, make dinner, clean up dinner mess, go to sleep and get ready to do it all again the next day.
Food. We figured, with all of the riding we'd be doing, that we'd lose quite a bit of weight and before you knew it we'd be a couple of skinny kids. Not so much. Yes, we were exercising more or less all day and burning a ton of calories, but it was at a moderate to easy intensity. It was very rare that we were actually out of breath or working to the point of complete exhaustion. But that didn't mean our appetites weren't gargantuan. We were always hungry and ate what sometimes felt like non-stop. You'd think we would have craved hearty, nutritious meals, which I was excitedly prepared to experiment making on a single burner camp stove, but instead we found ourselves with the most insane sweet tooth you can imagine, settling more for what was fast and convenient instead of interesting and nutritious. Our breakfasts and dinners were simple, yet healthy, but everything in between was pretty junky – we got daily doses of chips, candy bars, sodas and ice cream – and I don't think either of us lost a single pound. Another cyclist, Sam from England, whom we met crossing South Dakota said it best, “I've never liked sweets much but at the end of a day of riding all my body wants is an entire liter of ice cream.” Sadly, I have to agree, it's true, and we weren't very good at ignoring or depriving our cravings!
Fires. We set out with a plan to mostly camp our way across the country, which we did. Aside from our week in a hotel in Arcata, CA at the beginning of the trip when Mike's knee was hurt, we only broke down and stayed in a hotel twice after that; once for our anniversary and once in Niagara Falls where it was too sketchy to camp. That makes for a lot of nights of camping and we originally expected to have camp fires almost nightly – because that's what you do when you camp. I think we could count the number of camp fires we had on one hand. The lack of them being because we were either camped illegally (and the last thing you want to do is have a fire then) or we were just too tired after the day of riding. Most of the time we'd get to camp, set up, make dinner, clean up and be ready for bed with no desire to sit around a fire for a few hours.
Maps. We didn't plan our route at all and no, we didn't have a GPS with us. Mike despises them, so we set out everyday with a standard AAA state map not knowing exactly which roads we'd be riding or where we'd be camping that night. But here's the thing with maps. They have towns printed on them but we discovered that, more frequently than you'd think, many of those towns don't exist. That's a bummer when we were running low on food or water and were counting on stopping to resupply. We'd stop along the road, check our map, thinking we should have hit a town by now, have no choice but to continue on and then eventually we'd find ourselves 2 towns up the road without ever seeing a hint of an establishment. Aren't there a set of standards required for a town to be printed on a map? Perhaps at least a sign signifying the town or a cluster of more than 3-5 houses? The lesson we learned – always carry way more food and water than you think you'll need because you never know if the next town actually exists or not.
Wind. It's always said that the prevailing winds blow from west to east. That may be true 30,000 feet up in the air, but at ground level, that's a bunch of bologna! We had great visions of pedaling with ease across much of the U.S. with the wind blowing at our backs, but I think we were only lucky a handful of times to actually have a tailwind. More often than not it was gusting straight into our faces or coming from some side angle, but always blowing in a different direction each day.
People. We didn't expected random strangers to be as inquisitive, accommodating or generous as they were. We figured people would approach us and we'd have to answer a few questions every now and again, and maybe if we were lucky someone would invite us into their house for a meal, shower or place to stay , but I never imagined it would go to the extent that it did. The people we met and the kindness that they eagerly showered upon us, each incident adding a new dimension to our adventure and reminding us of the overall goodness of humankind, was something that blew my mind. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that we were off the beaten path and didn't follow one of the standard cross country bike routes. We were coasting through towns where many people had never seen bike tourists before and instead of being looked at as just another summer cyclist, we were crazy, doing something unthinkable and people wanted to help us out. Whatever the reason was, it doesn't matter. The people are who made this trip for me and we can only hope to encounter as many wonderful folks as we found here as we venture into a land of unknown languages, cultures and surroundings. Thank you to everyone who has supported us and become part of our adventure!
We're about to take off for the next segment of our adventure. South America. It's a little bit scary heading into a new country, far away from everyone we know and everything we're accustomed to, but the aspects that make it scary also make it exciting. We'll have to learn to communicate in a language we cannot fluently speak. We'll have to learn how much food and water we have to carry with us because towns will be spaced further apart than they were in North America and the convenience of everything will be far from what it was here. We'll have to be more cautious because of all of these things, and we know we'll learn some lessons the hard way, but nonetheless, it will be an adventure.
I will continue to write so please stay tuned. I don't know how frequently the posts will be, as I'm unsure of how often we'll find internet access, but I'll try to get something on here at least every week. I'll leave you with a quote a friend gave us when we left California in June, and though it was relevent then I think this is the point in our trip at which it really starts to apply:
“Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be....close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar and you'll live as you've never lived before.” -Erich Fromm