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Old 03-21-10, 07:52 AM   #1
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how much planning do you put into a tour?

i was just wondering how much detail other people go into when planning their tours? pick a destination and then just pack up & go. measure daily milages & stick to some kind of schedule? make reservations? research route beta on the net?

i've never been one for doing much planning beyond picking a destination and guessing how many days it might take. sometimes the little thought i do put into it is pretty half-baked.

as an example, last year in april, i was having a hard time deciding whether to go on a tour or do some alpine climbing. the obvious way out of my dilema was to do both. figured it would take 5 days: 2 to the mountain, 1 day up & down, and 2 days back.

no way to carry what i would normally take on a climb. first off, boots alone would have taken up an entire pannier. rope? forget it. stick to a non-technical climb. here's what i brought: bivy sack, down summer bag, short sleeping pad, climbing helmet, lightweight aluminum ice axe, clunky old style crampons i could strap onto my sneakers, gaiters and rain gear, 1 candle and metal cup for just-in-case, 1 light down jacket, no change of clothes except 1 tech t-shirt, 1 quarter ton of chocolate bars.

with the exception of a series of 3 nightmare tunnels with less than 1 pot-hole-strewn yard between tunnel wall and large trucks rushing past, the ride to the mountain was pretty nice. great weather, great scenery, wind at my back on long, level stretches; the kind of ride where the uphills somehow seem shorter than the downhills. the last 4 or 5 hours of the second day were pretty hot and dry though, and i was still a couple of hours short of the trailhead when i stopped.

third day up & down the mountain didn't play out like the idylic climb i had visualized in my head.
still a couple of hours from the trailhead, i got a before-dawn start. had to push my bike along stretches of icey sections. beginning of trail wet & muddy. gaiters no use in keeping the water and mud out of my sneakers. within a couple of hours or so of strapping on my crampons, i had holes worn through the sides of my sneakers and several painful blisters that bandaids had failed to stop. the scenery was great, but i never got anywhere near the summit. thankfully, the ride down the mountain was downhill and no longer icey. and luckily the blisters were in places that weren't much of a problem while pedalling.

the weather held for the ride home. i got to the tunnels-from-hell just around sunset, stopped at a rest area until 3 in the morning and made it through with only a few cars and no white knuckles. ran into (not literally) another cyclist later that morning and we rode about half a day together.

long and short is that the ride was fine, but i got spanked on the climb due to poor planning. what was (wasn't) i thinking? if the weather had turned it could have been a real ordeal.

so i'm curious; what have your best or worst tours been like, and how much was due to planning or lack thereof? let's hear your stories.

Last edited by philso; 03-21-10 at 07:55 AM.
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Old 03-21-10, 09:00 AM   #2
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Planning? Are you kidding me? I just get on my bike and go. Well, maybe I pack up my bike, put it on a plane, and fly to a pre-thought-of destination, but that's about the extent of it. Generally, anyway.

I think a lot of it is that we've toured so much now that we can "plan" pretty quickly. A quick look at a map and we can pretty well judge how long it will take us to make it from poin A to point B. We have all our gear and such, so we can hop on and go.

What we found took all the time for this extended tour we're on now was the preparations for putting our lives on hold for so long. We had to figure out what to do with the house - contact a property management firm, remodel the house for renters, pack up all our stuff and get it in storage, etc... We also had to deal with all the bills and get everything on auto-pay or arrange for other payment. There were a gabillion little things to do like that.

In the end, we spent a frantic year preparing for this trip, but very little of that was spent actually planning the tour itself.
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Old 03-21-10, 09:35 AM   #3
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Not much. I like to read about the route and the country I will pass through. I check the climate and hash over what clothing and gear to take for the expected weather. I ask about interesting places to check out along the way.

Actual planning like specific schedules and making reservations I don't like to do. Some times it is necessary to plan a day or to ahead, but I avoid even that when I can.
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Old 03-21-10, 11:57 AM   #4
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i have a map that i made that lists every campground that i know of, gas stations, restraunts and coffee houses (when available). with this i can just pick a direction and go. as for gear, it takes about 30 minutes to pack.

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Old 03-21-10, 12:47 PM   #5
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to me the purpose of bicycle touring is to have the trip of my dreams which is not only about the distance but enjoying the country I am visiting.
I do a lot of research with guidebooks and on the internet. Much of my bicycle touring is in Europe so I head for intesting places to sightsee along the way. After 10 years of bicycle touring I have found that if you do not plan you end up missing interesting things along the way. Regarding accommodation, I either pre book or at least have a list of possible places. Also as I am leading a group of 4-6 cycling friends I listen to their needs, often we pull into a town and head in different directions for a set number of hours (I am not a museum but some of my friends are).
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Old 03-21-10, 03:44 PM   #6
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I tend to plan and organize, but there is a lot that I don't plan on a bike tour... (It also depends on length of the trip):

What to bring?
- I have a pretty well developed equipment list by now, so by now for a week tour, I'll wait until two nights before I leave and pack things
from the checklist. For a multi-month trip, I'll go through that list a bit more in my mind and end up renewing some things (e.g. tent)
as I think through them.
Where to go and where to stay?
- I don't plan my detailed route and I generally don't plan where I'm going to stay. On a week-long trip I'll go through a site like and get a list of towns that have motels. I'll also have a rough idea of the route though will switch off specific roads
on a day by day basis. On a multi-month trip, I won't plan any places to stay or routes but will know roughly directions and create a
"mileage budget" to keep track of approximately how far it is along my main goal and hence what sort of rate I expect to do per week.
- I avoid making reservations unless it is a known crowded area or it is my first night off a plane.
Additional planning?
- On a multi-month trip, I'll make sure I have immunizations and visas in place. Shorter trips are less likely outside US.
Background info?
- On a multi-month trip (to a more remote location like across Russia or around Australia), I'll have read others journals and general
tourist info about the places I'm going through.
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Old 03-21-10, 04:44 PM   #7
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You can look at it both ways. You can plan every aspect and figure out the kinks prior, or you can dive straight in. Both ways work, if you are a dedicated individual. Alastair Humphreys comes to mind on this question. Many of his adventures, he just up and left. Some ideas he had, the next day he was on a plane, train, bicycle or foot on his way to execute.
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Old 03-22-10, 03:57 AM   #8
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I've been on enough tours now it would take me an evening to pack for a tour. I know what to bring and where everything goes.

If I'm going to leave the country, or fly, or something other than just hopping on the bicycle and going, I will also do the necessary preparations for that, i.e. make sure my passport is up-to-date, check on visa requirements, book flights, etc.

As for planning the actual tour ... if it is a short tour, we'll plan where to go because we only have a short amount of time to work with. If it is a long tour, the planning loosens up. We have a general idea where we want to go and what we want to do, and we might need to be in certain places by certain times, but otherwise we'll keep it pretty casual.

Right now we're working on plans for an extended tour, and like nancysv says, it's all the non-tour stuff that requires the planning. We know where we want to be and roughly when, and we know what to bring etc. etc., but there are a lot of additional non-tour details to sort out.
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Old 03-22-10, 08:11 AM   #9
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I like to plan as much as possible beforehand, but once I'm out on the road I take things day to day. I don't feel obligated to stick to an itinerary. On my first big tour, down the Pacific coast, I stuck to the route outlined in "Bicycling the Pacific Coast" by Kirkendall/Spring. A lot of other people were doing the same thing. As a result, I saw the same faces night after night in the hiker/biker sites and made a lot of new friends. When I went back several years later and rode the Oregon portion I varied from the route. I shortened some legs and lengthened others. As a result I stayed in different campgrounds. I still met people, but didn't see the same people night after night, and even had a hiker/biker to myself once. Both modes had something to offer.

On my last two tours I followed the ACA route. I like the roads they choose, but they don't suggest campsites or nightly legs. I decided each day how far I would ride and what my destination would be.
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Old 03-22-10, 08:31 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by philso View Post
i was just wondering how much detail other people go into when planning their tours?
More than is rational. I plan in excrutiating detail over a long time. What I end up actually doing, however, may bear little resemblence to my plan. Nevertheless, the plan is useful because it gives me a framework and default. It's a personal thing--some people are planners and others not. Both work.
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Old 03-22-10, 10:16 AM   #11
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For a multi month cross US tour, I spend a lot of time looking at maps, possible routing, and things to see along the way. I start with a list of proposed stops with mileage etc computed. I like to compare my completed route, mileage estimate, and elapsed time estimate, with the end result. When it is all completed the original list is usually not very close to what I actually did, but it is a start. My last trip began with four plots on a US map. Three were locations of relatives that I wanted to see enroute, and the fourth was a good spot to cross the Mississippi River on a bicycle. Everything else just fell into place from there.
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Old 03-22-10, 12:59 PM   #12
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how much planning do you put into a tour?

Too much. Way too much. I must be a control freak or something.
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Old 03-22-10, 11:56 PM   #13
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I almost spend as much time planning the where/how/tools/gear side of the tour from my sofa as the actual riding! I know the road numbers, towns I'd like to pass through etc. I over-plan. I like to know as much as possible about the roads, weather, language etc. of where I intend to ride; and approximately how long the tour will take. To me, the planning is almost as enjoyable as the actual tour.

I think bicycle touring is/can be a lifestyle. Planning, for those with some types of personality, is essential in order to feel a closer connection with that lifestyle.

But I hate to book accommodation and hate to have daily mileage schedules. Once the riding starts, I have a compass/bell on my bike and a map with me and roughly follow the direction I planned to travel in. If I end-up on a different road than intended or travel faster/slower than I thought, I'm not bothered at all -- that is what touring is to me. I just play it by ear. I would hate to participate on an organised tour where I couldn't change my plans depending on how I felt.

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Old 03-23-10, 07:15 AM   #14
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Planning is a big part of the fun for me. Considering the merits of different routes, poring over maps, gear, bike and all make it seem real and doable. I always have a plan, and it rarely survives Day 2 completely intact.

Planning also keeps me from feeling like a ninny when I'm talking about the tour with someone and they ask a simple question like "how many days will it take to cross New Mexico?"
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