Trip update: I have managed to ride almost every day, and, as often as not, out into the rolling hills of Albemarle County, Virginia. The days are short, so 40-45 km is a good ride. Still, the last three days, I have pulled in before dark. Now that I have ridden in as many places as I have in the last year, I find that Albemarle County is a very pleasant place to ride. The topography reminds me of riding along the Southern Shore of Nova Scotia. The weather has been comparable, too.
This week brings the first installment in a series about how the 10-week bicycle tour through Canada has changed the way I approach living and working on the road. Let me start by discussing where I stay.
During the Southern Swing 2013, I stayed mainly in motels and hotels when I was not staying with friends or family. This is called “touring with plastic” (credit cards) by bicycle tourists. Such tourists often enjoy the services of a sag wagon, driven by a non-riding family member or the staff of an organized touring company. The more familiar image of a bicycle tourist might be the heavily-loaded, young camper traveling unsupported. We call this “touring with nylon” (tents). The closest the stereotype gets to a solid roof is a youth hostel. Variants include organized tours with sag support, which camp in parks along the way.
I fell between the two extremes: touring with plastic, but without the sag wagon. I worried about being stuck at night, so I would make reservations at motels along the way to the next home of a relative. The one time I went out without a reservation, I had a miserable, time looking for accommodations at the end of a very long ride.
Thanks to what Cheryl taught me last summer. All that has changed. With a new tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, panniers, and even a new bicycle, I am squarely in the camp of the “touring with nylon” set. I have found that I prefer hostels and camping, because I can shop locally for my own food and prepare what I want to eat. Eating out all the time got to be one of the down sides of staying in motels.
In the shared eating and living spaces of hostels, and the picnic tables and fire pits of campgrounds, there is more opportunity to interact. You can expect to read about more, interesting people than last year.
My attitude is more relaxed. Instead of stressing out now, I get up in the morning and ride to the next place. No reservations. About midday, I check the resources with me (internet, guidebooks, ACA route planner, etc.) for places to stay (hostel, campground, state park, B&B, inn, etc.). I may phone ahead once I am sure where I want to stop, especially if the destination is a hostel. The idea is to be settled by sundown, unless I am headed for a building (hotel, B&B, inn, hostel, etc.). In cooler weather, it is important to be inside the tent, not just pitching it, before the sun goes down.
Don’t get me wrong: I still have a plan , and I research accommodations before I set out. But I do not go into so much detail that I cannot decide to stop short of the next place on the plan, or even change direction. For example, the Northern Trek 2014 was supposed to go north to Montréal, then west across Ontario, Michigan, and into Indiana. On the way to Montréal, I turned west to Rochester New York, to get a new ID card, then met Cheryl in Niagara Falls. Ten weeks later, I continued my trip to Chicago from Boston, not Montréal.
Even in the remotest parts of North America, the next possible place to pitch a tent or check in for the night is never more than a long day’s ride away. The situation should be even easier in densely settled Europe.
A relaxed attitude about accommodations and planning would not have been possible without some other key elements. These include increased fitness, which allows me to ride in almost any weather and almost any kind of terrain. I no longer worry about not being able to get where I want to go. But probably the most significant element is gear, and we will discuss equipment when I come back in two weeks after the next sea story.
Happy New Year to all. I sincerely hope that each of you enjoys health, prosperity, peace, and happiness in the coming year.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,