July 18, 2013

5 Things to Know (& Love) About Bicycle Touring. ~ Rasham Gibbons

There are many journeys to wisdom. Some of the most amazing are on two wheels. But before jumping on your bike for a 3,000 mile trek, there are a few things to know.

1. Bike touring is not a vacation.

A vacation implies a period of respite from the norm: a mental break from the usual labors, chores and accompanying stress and strife. And true: bike touring does offer a change in routine, a break from the monotony of daily life. But this is as far as the similarities go. Though some long distance ride lovers tour during holiday from work, they do so with the understanding that it requires hard work. Nothing about bike touring resembles the lounge chair on the beach or the ride in the golf cart on the green kind of trip. Bike touring is not a vacation; it’s another way of life.

Furthermore, most people on a tour choose a life by bike as the norm for however long or short a period of time as the trip lasts. The experience of a modern day nomad on wheels is both a lifestyle alternative and a way to journey, experience, and discover the world in a unique way. Vacations from this life are what you take when your knees are throbbing, your skin is fried, or you’re just plain wiped out from all the pedaling and pushing.

2. Bike touring is not an escape.

“What are ya’ runnin’ from?”

This question is bound to intercept the tourist at some point along their path. Life on the road attracts rebels who use bike touring as a way to avoid unfavorable circumstances, leaving behind the duties of the day-to-day grind.

But, though it may appear an escape, one’s responsibilities merely assume a new form. The cyclist trades one set of workday burdens for the rigorous demands of bike touring. In addition to the practical aspects of touring, like having the right gear, a plan and a consideration of environmental conditions and finances, there are also the mental, emotional and physical investments to take into account.

As any spiritual or therapeutic process, touring floats you directly into the greatest battle of all: working through personal flaws, blocks and fears in a struggle to find peace in every set of circumstances, however hopeless, desperate or weird.

Every challenge one may meet, be it weather, elevation, flats, deteriorating roads or the unfortunate encounter with an impatient driver, must be faced head-on and in the moment. The open road offers few distractions from the process of working things out. There is no running away from any of it, and there is no room on the bike to carry an additional load of mental strife. Cycling teaches the saddle warrior that escape is an illusion and that our greatest fears must be met head-on if we are to overcome them.


3. Bike touring is more than travel.

Travel has its perks: seeing new places, meeting new people and broadening horizons to boot. And bike touring is, of course, a great way to travel. But to limit its definition to “going from one place to another” is just plain unfair.

The beauty of bike travel is that it transcends the act of getting somewhere.

Arriving in scarcely visited destinations and witnessing first-hand the cultures encountered along the way are certainly bonuses promised by the bike. However, these are mere perks which keep the bike tourist’s legs hungry for miles—candy left along the path to bait the cyclist into covering yet more distance.

Unlike ordinary travel, touring by bike is more an act of pilgrimage than it is travel; it’s a personal crusade against the inner and outer obstacles that suppress a person from striving for the greatness promised to each individual. Bike touring is an endless feat to be continuously accomplished, the stage upon which to wage war with personal demons. It is a commitment, which when made, proves a grand demonstration of devotion to the achievement of one’s inherent potential.

4. Bike touring is dangerous.

It’s true: accidents do happen. And it’s also true that there’s a measurable degree of risk involved with bike touring. But this risk is as great as the chance you take each time you drive your car. And most any driver, like all cyclists, will answer that the ride is most certainly worth the risk.

The idea that bike touring is too dangerous is another common misconception. Sleeping under overpasses, pushing bikes through rattlesnake territory, bear-proofing panniers, pedaling shoulder-less highways and trusting that your next source of water really is at the end of these 50 miles are certainly cause for fright in a novice tourist. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to file these under occupational hazards.

An experienced tourist takes all necessary precautions. Carrying an adequate water and food supply, knowledge of the terrain, respect of road rules, people and cultures and a little bit of wilderness know-how are enough to ensure a safe ride.

Besides, it’s a fact that bike touring renders the rider vulnerable to circumstances that allow for the experience of magical moments otherwise missed by someone sheltered and closed off.

As with any inspirational undertaking, the quality of experiences had while touring is mostly positive and comes in the form of unexpected gifts, donations and encouragement from strangers.

5. Anyone Can Do It.

When viewing a route drawn across a map of the whole USA, touring does seem impossible. Where am I going to sleep? How am I going to eat? Am I in good enough shape? How much is it going to cost? A cloud of intimidation envelopes the mind and immediately one is turned off from the idea of attempting a tour.

Granted, bike touring is not for everybody; to each his own, of course. But if bike touring appeals to you, then allow me to shed a little light.

Long distance riding is something to be taken day to day and mile by mile. Though certain sacrifices must be made, like daily showers, for example, learning to thrive without certain comforts is one of the perks of touring. And with a good head on your shoulders, solutions to even the most desperate situations will always meet you on the path.

You also don’t have to be in shape to do it; the ride will strengthen you along the way. Bike touring is a daily practice, not a climb to the top. When we choose to see it this way, a 3,000 mile tour doesn’t seem such a far off fantasy.

If it’s a matter of taking time off work or bearing responsibilities that don’t allow for a bike tour, then know this: bike touring is ultimately a means to follow your heart.

There are innumerable ways to journey along a path of wisdom, one for each person in the world. The mistake isn’t in choosing a backpack over a bike, but in allowing your dreams to take a backseat to so called “real-world obligations”. Discover your hand reaching for the brush, be it a bike, a motorcycle, a pen, a degree or a guitar and paint the life of your dreams.



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Assistant Ed.: Kristina Peterson/Ed: Brianna Bemel

{photos via: Rasham Gibbons}

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