In other words it is a lot of work!
When my husband and I took on this challenge I half expected a gap year experience with a bit of an adult edge. By this I mean I imagined casually viewing city tourist sites, relaxing, reading and writing my blog from about 2 pm. And yes I thought the mornings would have the tough workout vibe about them, and that would be about it.
This has not been the case. Yes we live in the age of GPS and the thought of having to map out your journey seems pretty foreign, but when your bicycle touring this is precisely what you have to do. And it takes a lot of time and energy! We try to stay on known cycle safe routes (the eurovelo routes through Europe are fantastic for this) which you need to map out, road by road (otherwise you end up a muddy path which you can’t ride or you find yourself climbing a 15% gradient hill on a 70mph motorway). Finally, you can then plot your route into your gps system, however then comes the next challenge of making sure you are covering enough miles and your route isn’t too strenuous. Then you have to realise that, unlike the typical student gap year experience, you are most likely not in cities very often, in fact you are usually in the middle of nowhere and you need to find a place to stay.
Bicycle tourist purists generally usurp this problem by ‘wild camping’. For those of you not in the know, this means you set up camp in any open space you find (a little out of the way) usually somewhere along the side of the road, or in a field or you knock on someone’s door and ask them if you can crash in their garden. This method is alluring, however it is illegal in most countries, (I doubt you would get arrested for it, but you might get asked to move on) it’s not as safe for you and your gear and you don’t get the comforts that you crave after a brutal ride like a hot shower and a relatively stench free toilet.
I don’t begrudge cycle tourists that are willing to primarily travel this way, in fact I applaud them. It is just that that kind if travelling was not what we had in mind when we took this challenge on, thus we are desperately trying to find accommodation whether that be campsites or reasonably priced airbnb’s or couch surfing along our planned cycle routes. This sometimes feels like a full time job.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention another option, which is warmshowers.org. Warm Showers (although the branding is not appealing) is an online network of cycle tourers who let other cycle tourers stay with them for free during their journey. Obviously it is a bit rare to find these people along your route, but when you do it is a great way to save on your budget and meet people of similar interests and experiences.
Living out of cycle pannier also takes some getting used to. Every evening you wind up unpacking all of your clothes and toiletries, and other cooking and household items that you need for the evening (if your camping pretty much everything needs to come out!). And every morning you need to repack everything in and orderly and compact manner, which takes time and getting used to.
Now we can talk about the cycling. Becoming a full time bicycle tourer is not like deciding you are going to go the gym 6 times a week and maybe even working out for up to an hour and a half at a time. The bikes weigh about 60kgs and you want to cover at least 30 miles a day. This is a lot of hard work and depending on the condition of the roads and the climbing, covering what may seem like a relatively short distance can take up 4-5 hours (on our worst day so far it took 7 hours to cover 40 miles). This kind of physical strain becomes like a full time job. You constantly need to stay on top of your water supply and you need to eat a lot. When I am finished with the cycling generally I am feeling way too tired to do do anything but take a hot shower and eat as soon as possible. I have also found that after several days in a row of hard riding I start to feel weary and generally temperamental.
Reading back over this it all sounds a bit negative and might be perceived like I am trying to put people off of any epic cycle touring journeys they are planning. Quite the contrary, I am loving the experience. I feel like my body and mind are getting stronger every day. We are getting better at planning and understanding the limits of what we can achieve. Unpacking and repacking begins to feel less like a task and more like a force of habit. And most importantly you learn to appreciate and understand travelling in an entirely new way.
You learn progression is slow. Your full time job isn’t relaxing and travelling, it’s bike touring. You gain a relationship and a dependency on your bike. Your body becomes your machine that you are developing to enable you to explore the world. And you are more open and honest in your relationships.