You’ve seen Russ & Laura of PathLessPedaled.com profiled here on Part Time Vagabond, but I thought it was fitting to have them close out Road Trip Month with a different perspective of life on the road. Long term road tripping has a unique set of challenges, but slow it down with only two wheels, and a whole new world — good and bad — opens up.
In July 2009, we left everything behind to travel the US on bicycle. We said goodbye to our friends, our apartment, the Thai restaurant down the street, our wonderfully comfortable mattress, and a general feeling of stability. In exchange, we welcomed new adventures, glorious sunsets and star-filled skies, connections with people we might never have otherwise met, a previously-unknown sense of freedom, and confidence in our strength and abilities. On a daily basis, we take stock of what we’re doing, where we’ve been and where we’re going, and we feel fortunate for the opportunity to live our dream.
But living large and exploring the world and being content with your choices doesn’t necessarily mean perfection and happily-ever-after. In fact, one of the greatest challenges we’ve encountered is the fact that traveling on bicycle is not always so glamorous. You sweat, you get dirty, you become exhausted. Hills go on forever and the wind is always at your face. Mosquitoes attack at random during the summer and your toes are always cold during the winter. Any sense of normal has utterly disappeared and we swing back and forth between extremely-pronounced highs and lows. There are moments when we get frustrated and grumpy and wonder if we made the right choice. And it always comes back to this… Would I rather be here, living fully, breathing in fresh air, experiencing what few people ever get to see or do, or be back in an office under a flourescent light? That’s all it takes for us to remember why we’re traveling the way we are … We’ve been given this golden opportunity to truly see the world, and we’re determined to not let it go to waste.
Two challenges that are unique to bicycle travel that we have had to overcome is that of food and navigation.
‘What’s for dinner?’ is no longer a simple question, as we don’t have the luxury of opening up a refrigerator and pulling together a meal. Space is limited on a bicycle and food is heavy, so we are forced to buy ingredients in small quantities and plan carefully. When we rode through West Texas, we had to be extremely conscious about food, because the distances were so great between services. We had several stretches of five or more days where we didn’t see a single market or convenience store. We pared down our meals and counted calories to make sure we were getting enough. We learned to cook with canned chicken and instant rice. Now that we are in a more-populated part of the country, grocery stores are easier to find. But it’s summer, with temperatures reaching into the 90s, and we still have to think carefully about food. Fresh meat simply wont survive this heat (remember, we don’t have a cooler), and fresh fruits and vegetables can wilt and bruise quickly when they’re stuffed in a food bag that becomes a sauna in the sunshine. So now we are learning to freeze fresh meat when staying the night in a place with a freezer, and to buy hardy fruits and vegetables that will hold up to the demands of the road.
Figuring out our route is another tricky part of traveling on bicycle. We have the freedom to go anywhere we want, but first we have to decide how to get there. We much prefer to take the small roads, where you’ll be rewarded with great views and won’t have to deal with much trafic. This sounds great in theory, but finding these roads can be tricky. Most state maps just don’t show that kind of detail. We carry state maps to get a good sense of our general trajectory, and then we seek out whatever local maps we can find. Oftentimes, visitor centers and chambers of commerce have free regional or county maps. Other cyclists are great sources of information, when we can find them, as are area cycling clubs. And, when all else fails, there’s always Google Maps on the iPhone (although, be forewarned that Google Maps can sometimes lead you very astray).
Traveling on a bicycle is an amazing experience and one of the best ways to see the world around you. You move slowly enough to interact with all that you come in contact with and you feel like you’re actively engaged in life. Bicycle travel has its own specific challenges, but we have found that it’s worth all of the trouble and pain and frustration to be able to stumble onto a small town named Hope, witnessing the best bloom of wildflowers in Texas hill country in over a decade or just the simple joy of waking up every morning and not knowing what the day will bring.