Although I enjoy riding to work and school and back home, the cycling I most enjoy is out on quiet country roads. Unfortunately I live in the middle of a sprawling metropolis and don't own a car, so getting out onto nice roads can be a challenge. Someday I'd really like to go on some long bicycle tours and really see parts of the country, but for now, lack of time, funds, and yes, fitness level, are preventing that from happening.
In the past, I have been able to get out on short little two to four day bike camping trips and I've really enjoyed those. I've never experienced being freer than being out on my bike with a full load of camping gear on it and several days to get where I'm going. I can stop wherever and whenever I want to rest or snack or take pictures, and if one is open to stealth camping, you have a lot of freedom of where you choose to stop for the night too. Although I've enjoyed nice hotels with saunas, hot tubs, and swimming pools, and the hospitality of old friends as well as camping or stealth camping. Sometimes the cost savings from latter methods has enabled a stay at someplace with those amenities and the mix can make for a real varied experience (all good!).
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get out on a cycle-camping trip for some time. It's been two years now since my last trip; three and half days cycling from Sacramento to Clear Lake, going around the southern tip of Lake Berryessa and through Calistoga. Just shy of a 145 miles, a lot of it brutal mountainous terrain, but a lot of great cycling too. Even if the mountains sucked, it was still a great adventure.
Recently, I've been feeling the wanderlust keenly, but alas, my touring bike is in pieces, awaiting time and funds to complete a full rebuild, and I'm lacking a few key pieces of lightweight camping gear I can't really afford right now. Furthermore, despite riding 7 days a week, about 15 miles a day, I'm still 280 pounds and get winded easily on hills and stairs. During the summers, I'm out of college and only commuting three days a week to work, but that's still close to 50 miles a week minimum, but somehow I'm going to have to do more to get fitter!
Early last year, my long-term girlfriend said something to the effect of "well if that is how you are going to spend your vacations, I guess I need a touring bike!". Not that we don't spend vacation time together, but I am able to get away a little more often than her. Obviously I was stoked that she is interested in touring! She used to be an avid mountain biker, but we've only been able to get out into the woods a few times the last three summers, and we each were not riding any kind of bike anywhere at all for several years before that.
So, we did a bunch of research and looking around, she wanted something brand new (not a converted MTB) and coming from a mountain biking background she wasn't interested in a classic touring bike similar to a road bike, but with longer chainstays. So she ended up purchasing a 26" wheeled Novarra Safari from REI, but hated the trekking bars and grip shifters. I got her some rapid-fire shifters like her mountain bike's and mounted them on a sweptback bar and new stem as well as replacing the seat with something lady friendly, more suited to a more upright stance, and in her size. She's put some miles on it, but she doesn't like this bike too much, I agree with her that it seems overly heavy, but she keeps describing it as "feeling like it is going to fly apart" compared to her GT's on fast descents. Not that there is anything wrong with it, just compared to her GT's, which are rock solid, it doesn't feel good to her. Eventually I'll find something better, but for now, it's sunk cost, and she's probably stuck with it for loaded touring.
Fast forward to this year and given how heavy her touring rig is and how little she likes it, I snagged a '96 GT Pantera off Craigslist for a song and converted it to a city bike for her with a rigid fork, sweptback bars, cushy slick tires, and a suitable saddle, etc. She loves this bike and has been getting out and riding more. This bike is very light, and she likes how minimalist it looks at the moment, so it still doesn't have any racks or even fenders on it yet. She's not commuting by bike right now (despite regular pressure from me!) and has the Safari should she desire to carry panniers on a trip, so this one may well not get racks for a long time, if ever.
Both of our birthdays are in August, and we usually try and take time off together and take a romantic trip somewhere. But our landlord just jacked up our rent again and is threatening to sell our building, so we both haven't wanted to spend money on travel that we should be saving for; first months rent, last months rent, deposit, pet deposit, a moving truck, and maybe a storage space, so here we are August already and we didn't have anything planned.
Although my partner has been riding more, she's not in great shape (I'm in bad shape too!), and says that right about at the 20 mile mark she just feels like she runs out of energy. In addition, as mentioned, the bike I usually use for touring is mid-overhaul and stalled there due to lack of funds and other projects taking priority and there are also a number of pieces of camping equipment we need to replace with much smaller, lighter things, but can't afford to do so right now.
The past month or so I've been doing a lot of research looking for 2-3 day rides I could do from our place in North Seattle, and it dawned on me that I could probably put together a route that we could manage at our current fitness level and bike situation if instead of focusing on camping, I bit the bullet and sprung for a night at a bed & breakfast, and broke the trip up into small legs instead of 45 miles of riding all at once like I usually do on my trips.
So the last couple of slow nights at work I researched a route and found a nice bed and breakfast for us to stay at, that is also reasonably priced ($130 including hot tub!). When I presented the plan to her, and she said "sounds like fun" and is excited about it! Yay! (insert dancing emoticon here! - why don't we have one of those?)
So, as "tours" go, I don't even know if this qualifies. Although we are barely riding 60-70 miles spread out over two days, I don't think I've ridden more than 35 miles in a single day in over a year, and nothing like back to back days of that many miles in probably two years. I don't think my partner has ever ridden more than about 35 miles in one day, never back to back, and hasn't been riding a whole lot this year, although she has gotten out for a few 15-25 mile rides and two 35 mile rides. Our load will only consist of a nicer change of clothes to wear to the nice restaurant we have reservations at near the B&B, toiletries, food for a picnic the next day, our locks, and binoculars for bird-watching and taking in the view. Each leg is tiny, at about 10 miles or less to hopefully make it manageable and we are both doing this on the mountain bikes we have converted for riding in the city. Total rackage? A front rack and a saddlebag support on my bike. I'll be carrying everything on my bike, which is fine as I actually enjoy riding loaded, and miss doing so while on bike camping trips and when I used to specialize in cargo, years ago when I was a legal messenger.
So, all in all, I was very pleased when she looked over our itinerary and declared it as appearing quite do-able. Which is good, because the hills on Bainbridge eventually wore her down the last time we rode there, and I'm sure there will be some hills that will be tough for us between Kingston and Bainbridge too, given the topography of this area. Since I'll be carrying everything, she can ride her nice light Pantera which she far prefers over her Safari. My commuter isn't ideal as a tourer, but I do okay on it on the rare longer ride I get in, and since it is just an overnight at a bed and breakfast I should be able to keep the weight down. My commuter doesn't have a rear rack, but I do have a very large saddlebag (18L Zimbale, similar to the largest Carradice) and I'm quite accustomed to carrying loads on the front rack, although I'll try and keep that weight down so it doesn't fatigue me too much.
So maybe not a "real" tour, but hopefully sharing this will encourage others who are similarly challenged by lack of equipment and fitness level to get out and ride!
Ride 10.7 miles from our apartment in north Seattle to the Edmonds Ferry Dock. Depending on when we arrive there and how much of a wait until the next ferry leaves, either have lunch on the waterfront there or in Kingston where the ferry makes landfall. I picked out a place that looks good (Arnie's) in Edmonds and there are lots of good options on the other side of the water in Kingston. We could also check out the Edmonds Marsh, which should have some nice birdwatching, but I expect we'll proceed directly across the water.
Ride 14.1 miles from Kingston Ferry Dock (or nearby restaurant) to the Green Cat bed and breakfast a little past the town of Poulsbo. Depending on how we feel, and how early we get there, we may ride the big 2.1 miles over to Kitsap Memorial Park and check it out. Again, depending on how we are feeling (and how many hills are between the two!), we'll either walk, ride, or maybe take a cab to/from the nice restaurant we have reservations at for that night (Molly Gardens).
So, a whopping 25 to 35 miles for the ride out, split into two main legs, and a couple of optional ~5 mile round trip side excursions.
7.7 miles from the B&B into the town of Poulsbo for coffee, and likely elevensies of some variety as we'll likely be delayed leaving the B&B by checking out their extensive gardens. Plenty to choose from in the way of food in Poulsbo. Might be hilly between the two.
7.1 miles from Poulsbo to Bloedel Reserve, to check out the gardens, birdwatch for a while. Definitely some hills on this leg of the journey.
9.5 miles to Bainbridge Ferry Terminal, route can be shortened to 7 miles via HWY 3, which has less hills. This will likely be the toughest part of the ride, Bainbridge Island is famous for the "Chilly Hilly" bike ride, and it's no misnomer! We might stop at the famous yarn store in Bainbridge (Churchmouse) and will probably have dinner on the island before catching the ferry back to Seattle. I do feel really lucky that we have so many ferry options within striking distance of home, lets us get out of the city! We really liked the Harbour Public House when we rode over there for me to pick up a rear wheel from a Craigslist seller, so I suspect we'll eat there again before riding over to the ferry terminal to catch a boat back to Seattle.
Finally, 10.3 miles from Colman (Seattle) Ferry Dock to home via Myrtle Edwards & Ship Canal Trails and then north on city streets. This is a familiar and pleasant ride for us (excepting the "mont" in Fremont!) and will probably fly by.
So, about 35 miles (34.6 + restaurant & shop detours) for the second day. 60-70 miles total, depending on routes chosen and side trips. I've done more than that in one day with a single overloaded pannier before!
It's a start though!
Hopefully next year I'll have my tourer built back up and we'll both be a little stronger and with some new lightweight gear and we can get out and do something a little more ambitious and a little more suited to our tastes! But, all in all, I think this will be a fine and fun adventure that will whet our appetites for more and be something that we can accomplish without it being miserable or totally exhausting.
I should have nice pictures to share here about a week from now!