Touring Overview and Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed my bike tour.  I’ve done two overnight trips before, but this five-day trip with four days of riding was a completely new experience.

This trip happened because of Debbie’s idea.  She wanted to ride to Indianapolis.  She later couldn’t do the first half of the trip for her own reasons, but she planted the seed in my head.

I learned a few things from this ride.

Don’t bring too much. I was overloaded. I wasn’t even camping, but I was probably carrying 50 lbs.  I was carrying a laptop, but I needed to in case work needed to.  I probably wouldn’t do this on a camping tour.  I brought too many clothes.  I should only bring two sets of cycling clothes, one to wear while the other is getting washed or dried.  One set of street clothes and some raingear would have rounded out the clothing needs.  I had cycling gear for four days, street clothes, and several sets of socks and underwear.  I also had a sweater with me that I never wore.

Put some weight on the front. If you are camping, and are going need to carry a lot of gear, spread the load out between front and rear.  I had all the weight on the rear.  This normally worked, but during steep climbs in low gear, the front wheel would sometimes lift.  It wasn’t a huge issue, but could have been better.

Riding alone and riding with someone are different, and each has it’s advantages. I rode 30 miles with Michael.  I rode 120 miles with Debbie.  The remaining 130 miles were solo.  Riding solo is less hurried, less worry about what others think.  It’s quiet enough to lose yourself in thought.  It can also get lonely.  Riding with someone gives you someone to share the experience with, even if you don’t discuss much of it.  I will continue to ride solo and with others on tour.  I like both for different reasons.

Bicycling touring is a great way to talk to strangers. There’s something about being on a loaded-down touring bike that will get people talking to you.  There was an older couple at a restaurant in Salem that wanted to know about my trip.  An old man in Indianapolis at a downtown bar who discussed bicycling lifestyle (he’s car-free).  The woman working the desk at the Motel 6 was quite fascinated by our trip.  People are genuinely curious about what you are doing and why.

There’s a lot of time required off the bike. Finding food, resting, sleeping, checking into motels and/or camping all take time.   Packing/unpacking the bike is time-consuming.  You also need to leave time to talk to random strangers and friends alike.  I initially was too aggressive with my per-day mileage and had no time.  Luckily, I saved 30 miles when Michael picked me up in Bedford and took me to his place in Bloomington.  That gave us time to go our for dinner (and excellent beer).  On the last day of the trip, after arriving at Debbie’s house, she saved me another 30 miles by driving me home.  This allowed me to spend more time with my wife and daughter before having to go to work the next day.

Related to time is mileage. You won’t go fast when touring.  It’s not a race.  My average speeds were probably just under 10mph.  Trying to ride 110 miles on the first day was a mistake.  I rode 80 miles on the first two days, and 60 on the other two.  I should have tried to stay under 60.  That would have meant a longer (time-wise) tour, but I’ll plan for that next time.

Enjoy the trip, not the destination. Or as Pondero asked, “Have you been able to transition from destination obsession to enjoying the moment that touring affords?”  I think having a pre-set route for each day caused me to have “destination obsession”.  I knew that flexibility is best, but hotel stays, a host in Bloomington, and meeting up with another rider made it hard to be flexible.  I did enjoy the trip, but I was always looking forward to arriving at my destination.  I need to work on that.  I also need a longer tour to be more flexible.

It takes time to adjust to normal life. I didn’t think this would be an issue for me after only five days, but it was.  Going back to work was hard.  Cleaning house and other mundane chores just felt wrong.  I wanted to be out on the roads again.  I’m not sure what will happen after 30 days on tour.  Will I never be able to come home?

Most people are polite. Most bicycling forums, mailings lists, and random talk from friends paints the picture of the cager, an asshole wrapped in his metal shell.  There are a lot of drivers out there.  I took low-traffic roads when I could, but around cities it’s impossible to avoid the traffic.  I was passed by thousands of cars over four days of riding.  Nearly all of them drove politely near me.  On the way to Indianapolis, I had zero honks or screams.  There were a couple of close passes and impatient drivers, but they were in the minority.  On the return trip, it was during the week, and had a couple of honks and one yell, but again, the rudeness was very much the minority.  This was true even on US36 in Indianapolis or US50 in Seymour.

Sunblock is a necessity, even in March.  I had intended to bring my sunblock, but couldn’t find it.  I didn’t bother buying more, because it’s March and the weather forecast called for clouds.  Although everyday had a cloudy stretch, each also had sun.  I had sunburn on my neck and ears.

I want to plan my next tour already. I have this “head in the clouds” thing since getting home.  I want to go on a longer tour.  Maybe to Nashville now.  Across the country in a year or two.  I wish I had the time and money.

I need to get out and ride more often. Since moving into town, I don’t have a quick and easy 11-mile loop.  I need to come up with one, even though it would now be urban rather than rural.  I’m comfortable in traffic, so an urban route isn’t a problem.  I’ve been so fixated on bicycling for transportation, that riding everyday is nice, but I seldom ride during the week except for commuting or errands.  Maybe that will ease some of the yearning for the next tour.

I love my GPS. Some old-school tourers may say a map is all you need, but I’m directionally challenged, and the GPS was a godsend.  I understand the value of having maps also, but for easy routing without having to stop and pull out a map, the GPS did a wonderful job.  It worked for keeping me on track and finding detours when necessary.

Why tour? It’s not just about the bike riding.  There are a lot of reasons.  Meeting new people and seeing new places is often cited, but I don’t think it’s the primary reason.  Getting away is my reason.  Most of us need time alone.  Whether we are truly alone, or touring with someone else, it’s a good time to reflect on life, yourself., and the world.  You can process your past, plan your future, and enjoy the present while just turning the pedals around.

4 thoughts on “Touring Overview and Thoughts”

  1. Thanks for the touring wisdom. I’ve yet to complete a multi-day tour, but am hoping to do so this year. I’ll heed your advice.

  2. @Apertome: I would love to ride there again, but with less gear. Tim and I were discussing a possible overnight to Bloomington. We would travel light due to the hills. 220 miles in two days is really pushing it. Upland would be worth it. Thanks for hosting! I’d be happy to host you here if you want to do the reverse.

    @Pondero: Wisdom? Not even close. You can learn from my mistakes though. 🙂

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