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  1. #1
    Senior Member Old Hammer Boy's Avatar
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    First time long tour--Your thoughts

    Like those from other posts I've seen on this forum recently, I'm about to embark on a substantial trek, my first long tour, the Southern Tier. I've ridden a lot locally on club rides, many centuries, and last summer a 330 mile unsupported tour across Iowa (in 100F + temperatures) in 4 days. I've done a trial run and equipment check-out and I believe I have the physical and mental toughness and the mechanical capability to deal with nature and other challenges that might crop up. I'm allowing as much as 90 days to complete the crossing, but I believe I can easily do it in more like 60, so none of this concerns me. For sure, I'm not going to make this a race, but instead do everything I can to make the experience the essence of the trip across our great country.

    Here's where I can use your input:

    My concerns deal with adapting to life on the road. My first concern is how I might deal with loneliness. I've been married for nearly 39 years, and my wife and I are inseparable. She's my best friend, cycling buddy, and everything to me in all ways, but she's not into long-distant touring. We've had some periods in our lives when we've been apart a week or so, but never this long. I'm told the first week or 10 days are the hardest when it comes to dealing with loneliness. What is your experience?

    How about the discomforts of living in a tent, sleeping on a sleeping pad on the ground, dealing with what foods may or may not be available, and being dirty and smelly for days on end at times. I'm thinking that I'll probably be tired enough every night so that I won't (usually) have a problem sleeping. I sleep well now, but that's on a nice comfortable bed in my comfortable home environment. As to being smelly, I had a friend who used to say; "Don't worry, you won't see these people again, but if you should, they'll remember you!" And what about food issues? Any thoughts here will be appreciated.

    Finally, have you had frustrations and difficulties that just made you (want to) quit? I can imagine that you can feel extremely vulnerable at times dealing with traffic, weather, people, and so many various challenges that I can't even imagine right now. I will try to maintain a can-do attitude and also relax as much as possible and just go with the flow, but there must be times when you have wanted to throw in the towel. My sense is that if one enjoys cycling and experiencing new things and meeting new people, as I do, most of the battle dealing with the frustrations, loneliness and discomforts of touring will be off-set, and the experience will be extremely rewarding. This is the attitude I'll bring with me. Will this be the solution to my concerns, or is there more?

  2. #2
    Bike touring webrarian
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    I did the part of the Southern Tier from San Diego to Phoenix. The first two days were nice--climbing out of San Diego sucked--but the ride to Alpine, Pine Valley and on to Jacumba was tough but very pleasant. It was a great way to start (It was actually my third week touring as I started in Central California).

    However, a few miles outside of Jacumba, you dip down into the desert, and I mean desert. It remains desert all the way to Phoenix. It is monotonous and uninspiring. It was this long stretch of sameness that convinced me that going cross-country was more an ego thing that something I would find exciting, compelling, and worth all the effort.

    As for lonliness, I carried a cell phone and would call my wife and friends throughout the day to stay connected. It helped. I also carried an MP3 player with books on it so that I could listen to interesting and thoughful stories and hear the sound of human voices.

    As for food, I carried a stove and cooked when I needed to and ate at restaurants when I could. Your body's demand for food is such that the only problem with food will be when you can't get enough of it. Note that I am a vegetarian, so the food choices were limited in some areas but with a stove and a store, I could also get something I could make to eat.

    Have a great time!

    Ray

  3. #3
    Hooked on Touring
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    Why don't you have your wife join you in three or four places?
    Southwest has great connections out of Salt Lake.
    What about a number of four-day weekends?

    El Paso - and a visit across the border.
    San Antonio - and the Riverwalk.
    Why not Mobile and the lovely gardens in springtime?
    And finally, she could meet you in St Augustine.

    Think about it. Yeah - it's money -
    But if you've been married that long - you should spend a little if it's available.

  4. #4
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    First of all, I have never toured longer than a weekend, by myself. I have gone on about 40 week long state rides. I like to leave early in the morning, so it seems like I am riding by myself. Here are two different ways I coped without my spouse. For about 7 of the week long trips, I cycled with the same fellow for a couple of years. His wife was a non-cyclist, but she accompanied him on the rides. We would meet at 6:45 am and cyle the days route. His wife would meet him around 12-1:00 pm and drive him to the hotel where they shared dinner and the evening. I would stay in the camp and eat/socialize with the group from 100-10,000 people. He actually lived in Kansas and I live in Michigan. He spent several summers in Paris with his wife and I lost contact. Another cycling buddy was a fellow club member. We would drive/fly to bike rides and cycle together, socialize, and then split up to separate tents. His non-cycling wife died, and he remarried a cyclist within 6 months, so I lost another cycling buddy. I found that I could either cycle all day by myself, or socialize/eat in the evening by myself. It was too lonely sitting down each day and saying, "Hi, my name is Debbie, I'm from Michigan" for breakfast, sag stops, and dinner. When by myself on weekend trips, I use my mp3 player with books on tape and either listen to them while cycling, or back in the tent. Since you are doing the Southern Tier, you have a short window frame to avoid the heat, yet miss the snow in New Mexico. I am sure you will meet many cyclists on the road. The other option is to advertise at adventure cycling. If I were to cycle with someone else, I would prefer to cycle solo and meet at camp every day or two. If you start off with someone, with the understanding that you are both free to leave at any time, you could probably tolerate the other party for about 3-4 weeks, before the breakup. If money is not an object, you could have your wife fly in for a weekend visit with you one or two times in the scenic areas.

    After reading many journals, the cost of hotels out west and in the plain states is around $50 night, camping can be around $20. Most people like a combination of both tenting/hoteling. I haven't read about people complaining about sleep on the hard ground. Mostly, they get a hotel when the weather is bad--high heat or rain storms.

    I have been married 30 years. There have been many ups/downs. I think with your marriage track record, you will survive on the road. You won't give up when the going gets rough, or you hit some lonely, boring patches. I have nine weeks vacation saved up, and was planning on the Southern Tier this year, but my job (with the government) is kinda unsteady right now with the 5th title change and reorganization this year. I don't want to leave and have them find they can do without me.

  5. #5
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    As far as being lonely, I'm one of those social-anxiety/anti-social types who should probably be in a cabin somewhere sending envelopes filled with anthrax to politicians, so that's not a problem for me. I'm single with no kids too though (believe it or not). Living in a tent doesn't bother me, although I don't sleep as well if I camp for more than a week at a time. I usually start out eating ramen noodles, bagels, and water, but then I get burnt on that and I start buying sandwiches alot. In mexico, dorito-burritos were my poverty ration, only because the bagel selection was sub-par down there.

    I quit my trans-am attempt last year in montana (started in oregon). My budget was shot to hell from staying in hotels more than planned, the weather was not so good, my gear was falling apart, and mentally I was burnt out. My baja tour ended due to bike theft. I finished my 3 OR-CA coast tours except one, because I was almost broke about san luis obispo. 2 weeks seems to be about as long as
    I can bicycle before I lose interest and get sick and tired of it. I still plan on riding coast to coast eventually, but I'm gonna leave later, have more money saved up, and take rest days to relax and unwind to keep me a little more mentally stable.

    Good luck on your ride.

  6. #6
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    You'll do fine. There will be other bicyclists. Books on iPod (MP3) is good as is the music. I spoke at length to a lady who failed in her first attempt at a TransAm. She just wore herself out and then went through the introspection depression doubt thing. Everyone gets there at some point if they solo. She said that her problem was that she did not take enough rest days. A rest day would be 20 miles while doing laundry, shopping, going to dinner by herself etc. Her advice to me (I was on my very first overnight ride, which was actually 63 days to Maine from Washington) was to take a total rest day every 5 or 6 days. I would advise taking a tour, seeing movies, meeting other bicyclist or anyone interesting for lunch or dinner, but get away from the daily mileage grind. Worked for me twice and the only tough ride I've had was when I was not able to follow that advice.

  7. #7
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    I don't always get lonely while touring, but it does happen. Being lonely is a normal part of solo touring. It's almost inevitable that at some point on a long trip you will feel that it's time to pack it in.

    I experience loneliness more often and intensely on difficult trips. Moreover, the change from being totally in the touring groove to feeling despondent can happen suddenly. Being cold, frightened, overtired, or unwell are the usual triggers.

    The chances are quite high that you will experience one of these triggers at some point on a long trip. During one trip, I experienced almost all of them. I was biking in a mountainous region of Switzerland. The first four or five days were sheer pleasure, and I was having a blast. But then I hit some serious mountains, and after two days of non-stop climbing, I could no longer deliver power to my legs. Now, that was a scary situation! I could not use my bike, felt trapped, missed my loved ones, and felt like I was going crazy from a lack of conversation. I ended up checking into a hotel for several days, all the time trying to figure out a strategy to get to an airport and fly home. My ticket, it turned out, was non-exchangeable, and I decided, rather than spend thousands of dollars for a one-way trip home, to be bored, lonely, and scared for a few days longer, and hope that my legs (as well as the rest of me!) felt better. After five or six days of resting, I climbed back into the saddle and continued my journey. My legs held up fine, although to avoid re-injury, I headed directly for less hilly terrain. The rest of the trip was only just OK. I developed a nasty cold, and basically, was ready to go home during 75% of my 17-day journey!

    Some trips are like that. I have gone on five multi-week bike tours in my life, and the other four trips, although there were moments of loneliness and doubt, were, overall, much more fun.

  8. #8
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    1. Loneliness: These days we have a lot of ways to communicate with our loved ones. Here are some ideas:
    -- get a phone card. They are often an inexpensive way to be able to call once or twice a week and talk for a while
    -- stop by internet cafes, libraries, etc. to use the internet and send emails once a day or so. This was very easy to do in Australia ... every town had internet access for free or for very little money in all the tourist information places, hostels, and libraries ... and for a little bit more money there were internet cafes. In travelling through the US though, I had a much more difficult time finding such things ... but I'm sure they must be out there somewhere.
    -- get a pocketmail, or similar device where you can type emails and then send them with any public phone ... and receive emails too.
    -- and arrange to meet your wife at various places along the route.

    2. Discomforts: On my long tour, I did not have a good mattress therefore my back, when I woke up in the morning, was often in agony. I insisted on spending at least one night a week in a hostel so I could sleep on a decent mattress and rest my back. If you do not plan to use hostels (and the US doesn't have many of those, unfortunately) or hotels, get a good mattress! That almost became a deal breaker on the trip ... when you can hardly stand or walk, let alone cycle, because your back hurts so much .... it's just not fun.

    3. Smell: I showered about once a week or so whether I needed to or not. You get used to it.

    4. Food: You'll want to eat lots ... so do. Don't forget to get your protein in there!

    5. Throwing in the towel: On my tour I was in Australia, half a world away. My flight left Australia on a particular day. I couldn't leave until then, so I had no choice but to stay. But the one thing that made me throw in the towel for a week was an accident that tore up my left knee pretty badly. Traffic and all the rest of it were no big deal. Oh one other thing was biting off a bit more than I could chew ... take rest days!! Get off the bicycle now and then, relax, sight-see, take it easy. I rented a car for three days on one occasion, and took the bus one day on another occasion, while my cycling partner kept riding. I needed the break.

  9. #9
    Patria O Muerte!
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    not really contributing or anything, just wanted to say that it's so inspiring to see your stories, all of them!
    I've never toured before, and reading these stories just makes me want to mount the bike and ride away for a few weeks.
    Thanks for sharing in such detail.

    Thread opener - GOOD LUCK!
    When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

  10. #10
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    Old Hammer Boy]Like those from other posts I've seen on this forum recently, I'm about to embark on a substantial trek, my first long tour, the Southern Tier. I've ridden a lot locally on club rides, many centuries, and last summer a 330 mile unsupported tour across Iowa (in 100F + temperatures) in 4 days. I've done a trial run and equipment check-out and I believe I have the physical and mental toughness and the mechanical capability to deal with nature and other challenges that might crop up. I'm allowing as much as 90 days to complete the crossing, but I believe I can easily do it in more like 60, so none of this concerns me. For sure, I'm not going to make this a race, but instead do everything I can to make the experience the essence of the trip across our great country.

    Here's where I can use your input:

    [QUOTE=My concerns deal with adapting to life on the road. My first concern is how I might deal with loneliness. I've been married for nearly 39 years, and my wife and I are inseparable. She's my best friend, cycling buddy, and everything to me in all ways, but she's not into long-distant touring. We've had some periods in our lives when we've been apart a week or so, but never this long. I'm told the first week or 10 days are the hardest when it comes to dealing with loneliness. What is your experience?

    How about the discomforts of living in a tent, sleeping on a sleeping pad on the ground, dealing with what foods may or may not be available, and being dirty and smelly for days on end at times. I'm thinking that I'll probably be tired enough every night so that I won't (usually) have a problem sleeping. I sleep well now, but that's on a nice comfortable bed in my comfortable home environment. As to being smelly, I had a friend who used to say; "Don't worry, you won't see these people again, but if you should, they'll remember you!" And what about food issues? Any thoughts here will be appreciated.[/QUOTE]


    Finally, have you had frustrations and difficulties that just made you (want to) quit? I can imagine that you can feel extremely vulnerable at times dealing with traffic, weather, people, and so many various challenges that I can't even imagine right now. I will try to maintain a can-do attitude and also relax as much as possible and just go with the flow, but there must be times when you have wanted to throw in the towel. My sense is that if one enjoys cycling and experiencing new things and meeting new people, as I do, most of the battle dealing with the frustrations, loneliness and discomforts of touring will be off-set, and the experience will be extremely rewarding. This is the attitude I'll bring with me. Will this be the solution to my concerns, or is there more

    On my cross-country tour last summer, I had the opposite experience. The first two or three weeks were so busy and so exhausting that I didn't think too much about anything but eat-sleep-ride, but about week 5 I started to find myself riding along having fantasys about being with my bride of 48 years. By the time it was finished (7 weeks in my case) I couldn't wait to get her in my arms.

    Sleeping on the ground in my tent was one of the best parts for me. I never was uncomfortable, except maybe the couple of times there was a severe thunderstorm in the middle of the night, and I thought about laying there with an aluminum cross surrounding me. Good luck, wish I could go with you on the ST.
    Life is simple- Eat, Sleep, Ride

  11. #11
    Senior Member Old Hammer Boy's Avatar
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    WOW!!!! What wonderful suggestions, all... Thank you so much.

    I will take my MP3 and see if I can get ahold of some audio books down at the local library. Great suggestion. I also have planned all along to take my Ipaq (PDA/handheld computer) and keep in touch that way along with my cell phone. My Ipaq has wireless capability, etc. I'm a ham radio operator and plan to take a small (walkie-talkie type) radio. I do love my toys. Even most small towns have hams to talk to and with repeater stations the coverage can be many miles, sometimes hundreds. I'll also get a phone card for those locations where a cell phone might not work, and I promise to fold in some serious rest days. The idea of flying my wife to meet me mid tour is also a great thought, thanks for that one. I had planned to have her meet me in Florida, but mid trip could be lots of fun for her, too. She's going to have some challenges, too.

    I have a cousin in Austin, a sister north of Houston and another cousin in Biloxie, so I'll have some good opportuinites to visit loved-ones. I know that will help a lot. Sounds like I've got it covered, now it's up to my legs...

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