I have wanted to write about the pace of a long distance bike tour for a while now. It seems that there really is not much like it, it sits in limbo between walking and driving. Closer to walking than driving on some days. Everyday is an intense experience; being exposed outside, at the whim of drivers on the road, hopping between campgrounds and towns. It’s a spontaneous experience, at least for me, because I don’t plan very far ahead and just let each day happen, sometimes not even knowing where I’ll end up that night.
For example, it’s slow enough that you can read all the signs on the road, but not fast enough to go out of your way every time there is something to do that sounds fun (unless you have unlimited time). I’ve noticed some of the slight changes in geography, topography, people, and wildlife as I pass through areas that I’ve never visited before. Had conversations with people that I never thought that I’d meet. Been into almost every country store along the route. I’ve noticed that some places that seem absolutely empty, these are actually towns that people call home.
The day to day chores are similar to backpacking in a lot of ways. Mostly taking care of yourself and the gear you bring. Trying to keep your clothes from getting too filthy before they’re washed, setting up a tent, packing up the panniers (instead of a backpack). I like that feeling of being self-reliant and taking care of yourself with minimal possessions. Also exercising everyday makes it easy to be happy. Riding a bike is fun, and every day I get to ride a bike (kind of like it’s a 9-5 job).
In my opinion, the main difference between bike touring and backpacking is that it’s a lot more public. On roads instead of in the woods. While backpacking, most people are out there with you doing the same thing, at least day hiking. Each day I get incredulous stares- some people are really happy to see me, a few aren’t psyched about it. You have to deal with a lot of judgement, because frankly it isn’t normal to ride a bike on some roads, let alone loaded down with gear. I think part of this is just the Underground Railroad route being less traveled than the Trans-America route. It goes through some very rural areas. Or, maybe I’m just more sensitive to being judged. For the most part though I get more people happy to see me, and have conversations almost every day about what I’m doing. Usually the conversations are one-sided and they have all the questions, but that’s ok.
I made a list to try and make sense of how slow bike touring is and the different experiences that traveling slow provides. Bike touring is slow enough to…
- read all the road-side signs
- not be able to get to all the road-side attractions
- think, a lot of thinking
- notice changes in geography
- see (and sometimes smell) all the roadkill
- notice people staring at you as you ride by
- say hi to the people staring at you
- go into all the convenience stores in small towns
- meet interesting people in places you might not ever go
- sometimes get stuck in small towns and campgrounds
- get a sweet biker tan
- learn how much wind each kind of truck will carry with it
- have to get out of the way of cars every once in a while
- think of how many possibilities can be on this list as I go along.
Yet fast enough to get across the country before you lose your mind. (probably)