Life on the Road
Life on the Road
Memoirs of a cycling tour
There is something truly powerful about a bike, a map, two strong legs and a destination… Bicycle touring is the gift of travel presented on two wheels instead of four wheels, or two wings. And what a gift it is. I did my first bike tour last summer and have since discovered a new perspective of cycling. Not only was the tour beautiful, challenging, trying, and the best way to spend a month of my life; it was also a wondrous transformation of the bike from a recreational pastime to a powerful tool for movement. As the trip began I had no idea what to expect. Did I train enough? Did I bring the right equipment? Are we going to be safe? Question marks filled my brain during the trip out to San Fran. That was the plan, drive to San Francisco from Utah, then take the train up to Portland. From there it was going to be smooth sailing (hopefully) down the coast.
It didn’t take long once we started biking to forget about worrying and start living in the adventure. Wondering whether I was ‘in shape enough’ became a non issue because in touring there is no such thing as too slow. Really! Every single person bike tours with different intentions and at different paces, but that is what makes it wonderful! I witnessed one such different touring mentality at one of the many ‘hiker/biker’ campsites that line the Oregon and California coast.
As our group of four people rolled into a campsite around 4:30 pm we made the usual rounds, circling the spots looking for the one we liked best. Unfortunately, at this specific campground, the ‘hiker/biker’ spots were small, spread out, and on a hill, not ideal for our group. Seeing as we had just biked the whole day, we were tired, hungary and wanting nothing more than to get camp set up and more importantly, eat before it got dark. As we reconvened to discuss our options, we did so in front of the first (and by far the best) ‘hiker/biker‘ site. We weren’t more than a couple of words into our discussion when the two biker tourers in the first site hollered over to us, “Hey you guys need a spot? We are getting ready to head outta here in a sec. Take ours.” I did a double take, not at the two cyclist but at my watch, it read 4:43PM. Seriously? You guys are leaving? Its almost 5PM and we are just getting in for the night and you’re about to leave?? I was confused to say the least. The two people, a guy and a girl, looked to be in a relationship. The girl was wearing quite possibly every item of clothing she brought with her. Seeing as it had just been rainy I could understand the extensive amount of clothing for hanging out in camp, but if she was about to start cycling was that really necessary? I had to turn off the practical part of me that wanted to explain to her that she should probably just ride with fewer clothes on because if she wore all of that she was going to be stoping every ten minutes in order to shed layers. The guy was just as interesting to me for different reasons. In one hand he looked to be fusing with a book of some sort, holding it over a dying fire, its soaked pages dripping, the other hand held a cigarette which he periodically took puffs from . He noticed my confused look and laughed, “Yea… This is our guide book. We left it outside the tent last night unfortunately”. I murmured something apologetic and continued taking in the scene. Their bikes were somewhat of a surprise to me too. Two mountain bikes, knoby tires and all, loaded with what seemed to be too much stuff. Once again I had to try to stop myself from looking at the situation through the biking lens I had previously established, one that said the lighter the better and less is more. A member of my group broke the ice with the question we were all dying to know the answer to, “It’s like 5PM are you guys really leaving?” The two of them weren’t bothered in the slightest by our questions. They laughed and the guy said, “yea we’re a sight aren’t we? Smoking cigarettes and leaving our guide book out in the rain… We’re doing this all wrong but we’re having some of the most amazing times ever and that’s enough reason to keep on going”. It was at that moment that the lightbulb went on for me. My expectations and ideas about touring are by no means the right or only ones. The two of them proceeded to tell us about some of the joyous experiences they had had. Everything from amazing families hosting them over night to epic views of the coast. We laughed and shared stories and tips. Eventually they told us they had to be on their way (by then it was close to 5:30PM). They grabbed their bikes and said they would hopefully get 20 more miles under their belts before night fell. We wished them safe travels and watched them mount their trusty (and beefy) mountain bikes and ride away.
I was incredibly grateful for that experience because it brought me a sense of clarity. I was so happy for them; two people I would never expect to find out on the road on bikes, traveling the coast. Good for them! Someone like me might be easily pegged as a cycling tourer because I love cycling and I love challenges. This trip, therefore was perhaps much easier for me than it was for those two, but they were out doing it, making mistakes, learning from them and having a hell of a good time along the way. They might have had different bikes, different gear, different reasons for being there, but they were there and we all had something in common because we had bikes and met at a ‘hiker/biker’ campsite in a tiny town along the coast . Those two became an inspiration for me, showing me that you can do anything you want as long as you have the passion for it and a good sense of humor! Bike touring can absolutely be for anyone. I had to laugh at myself for being so nervous about the trip before leaving home; life on the road was nothing but good times for everyone no matter the differences in how to go about doing it.
By: Stephanie Tomlin