'Rose, I don't know how to get the back wheel on. Or the pedals. Help me!'
I stood in the arrivals lounge of Vancouver Airport, trying to piece together my £250, eBay purchased, secondhand touring bike, with only a scant knowledge of how to repair a puncture. Suddenly my bright idea of cycling the length of America didn't seem quite so rational.
Before this trip, my only other long distance ride was an ill-fated 20 miles with my then boyfriend...
I'm a city cyclist, having spent almost half my life living in London. Cycling there was really a means to spend less on the tube, leaving more money for gin at the end of the week. My ten minute cycle ride to work hardly put me in the bracket of a 'proper cyclist'. I owned no padded shorts, and preferred pedalling in flip flops.
Before this trip, my only other long distance ride was an ill-fated 20 miles with my then boyfriend. Looking back, this ride could only be described as a complete disaster...
- I actually ended up crying at the sight of a small gradient (can't even be described as a slope, let alone a hill).
- I developed a somewhat delicate injury from an inappropriate choice of denim shorts
- And, finally, due to a complete misunderstanding about gear choices for tackling hills, I ended up with shredded quads and the need for heavy doses of painkillers.
A keen cyclist I was not.
I'm still not entirely sure how it happened, but boredom drives you to do strange things. With the thought of eternal monotony of Monday-Friday work on my heels and, in the absence of a single other person who even vaguely toyed with the idea, I managed to convince my younger sister that a 6 week stint cycling our bikes in the sunshine down the West coast of America was just what she needed in her season break as a professional cyclist.
Before she had the chance to say no, I'd booked our flights and bought us a map, and a month later we were airborne with a random assortment of items packed into four panniers, and our bikes boxed in some cardboard.
6 weeks later, we arrived at the Mexican border. And so I was reborn as a long distance cyclist. Easy as that. And I loved it, despite cycling through the worst weather the West Coast of America had seen for 40 years, an almost constant fear of trench foot setting in and being eaten alive by a bear, plus a variety of disasters that actually only added to the fun of things.
If I could offer some advice to anyone thinking of hitting the road, this would be it:
Ignore people who tell you that you are mad, before and during your trip
They may be right, but are more likely to be if you start believing them. You don't have to be an experienced cyclist to go on a bike tour. I'm proof of that. You don't need to be super fit either. I had barely ridden a bike in the months preceding our trip. You get fitter whilst you are on the road. Just go at your own speed. For me that meant going slow up the hills. So slow that I had enough breath to sing Justin Bieber songs at the top of my lungs whilst pedalling up the mountains. Sister Rose seems to think it means I could have cycled much faster, but I'm certain my dulcet tones saved us from bear attacks on a number of occasions and she should be thankful!
Take much less than you think you'll need
You are responsible for moving all of your belongings every inch of every mile. Even if that means pushing it. Whilst a spare bikini, a wooden spoon and 5-plug extension cord seemed a necessity back in the UK, they didn't last long on the road; the wooden spoon got ditched after week one when we realised it was just extra washing up, the bikinis never saw the light of day (much easier to wash your clothes in the sea whilst still wearing them), and I left all plugs and cables in the first campsite, rendering the extension cord useless.
How to pack the right amount of stuff:
- Make a pile of everything you think you want to take.
- Halve it.
- Then remember you are going to have to haul that everywhere with you, and try and halve it again.
You'll be thankful in the long run. And as a cycle tourer, you are excused the slight homeless, smelly look. The only people you are likely to spend considerable amounts of time with are also going to be cycle tourers. They smell too, so don't worry about clean t-shirts! Invest in some Merino. I can guarantee it won't smell after 9 days of wearing.
Look after your bum
You are going to be sat on it for a long time each day. Like 8 hours long, day after day. That's a lot of time for problems to develop! Choose a saddle that is comfortable, and be liberal with the bum cream. I was paranoid, after the Denim short chaffing saga of my youth, and so took a very proactive approach to keeping my derrière peachy. I splashed out on two pairs of padded shorts, took my very old but trusted saddle, and liberally applied my Hoo-Ha cream at every pit stop. 2000 miles later, with no saddle sore in sight, I was delighted with my approach.
Don't plan too much
Part of the joy of bike touring us the spontaneity. If you plan every inch of the ride, you'll lose the surprises that happen around each bend. Granted, that surprise may be a horrible hill, but would you have wanted to know in advance?! The only things you really need to worry about are do you have enough food and water, where can you get more, and where are you going to sleep tonight. Other than that, enjoy the freedom of adventure.
So if getting out on your bike for more that just one day is a nugget of a dream somewhere, my advice is just do it. Pack a rucksack or a pannier, take your sleeping bag and leave your front door. Who knows where you'll end up, but you'll certainly have stories to share and memories to make you smile.
If you enjoyed reading Robyn's story...
Read more about it from the other Osborne in Advice from a Ride Down the West Coast of America...
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