When news came in a month or two ago that I’d been given the green light for a PhD next year, it soon dawned on me that this summer would be my last mammoth-sized one for a little while before the harsh reality of the working world sets in – albeit only for a few years. With family dos on 22 July and 26 August, I found myself constrained to a one month window of limitless adventure. Without hesitation, I reasoned that I would have to return to my first love; cycle touring.
Between 2011 and 2013, I toured on three separate occasions with three friends from school covering over 4000 km and 13 countries throughout Western Europe. Seeing landscapes and cultures change at the pace of a bicycle offers a more fulfilling travelling experience when compared to a standard road trip. Indeed, cycle tours have provided some of the best (and worst) days of my life and I have a steadfast belief that it is the best way to see the world.
This time, however, there are five key differences:
- It will be solo. With Pelly busy being an Iron Man, Chambo finding himself in South America and Tom tied down to a job in Winchester, the reunion tour has been put on the back-burner. I’ve found solo travelling in recent years to be incredibly liberating but on a cycle tour it certainly presents an extra challenge.
- It’s a long way from home. Having covered Europe in a good level of detail, I had a strong urge to go intercontinental. The coastlines of the US soon presented themselves as very attractive options being both optimal for distance and having several points of interest. When it came down to East versus West, East edged it for me.
- The itinerary is flexible. Previous tours have had every night pre-booked (and on the 2013 tour, every road we were to cover was mapped out on Pelly’s Garmin). There is a good argument to suggest that, without doing this, sloppiness may creep in as there is no requirement to get the miles in each day. However, I do welcome the freedom of being able to stop when it feels right and not because I have to. Or, conversely, powering on if I happen to be feeling fresh and energised (it’s a big if). It also means that complications such as illness, injury or mechanical failures will cause minimal disruption.
- The accommodation is varied. Previously, we have stayed only in youth hostels throughout tours and these have served us well. However, America doesn’t really do hostels so I’ll be looking to roadside motels as well as making use of ‘Warm Showers’ (a free hospitality exchange website for cycle tourists with a similar premise to ‘Couchsurfing’). I’m also carrying camping equipment which allows for added flexibility. This does, of course, incur a weight penalty – which takes me onto point number 5…
- The bike. In the past, we’ve got by with just having two pannier bags on the back of our road bikes. With the amount of gear I’m taking out this time though, a sturdy touring bike with front and rear panniers is required. However, not only will the added weight slow things down, the tyres are 12 mm wider and will thus offer more rolling resistance. What’s more, the geometry of the bike allows for a more upright riding position compared to a road bike – so there is added drag.
With these points in mind it is difficult to say what I’m getting myself into and for this reason it is important for one to manage one’s expectations. While I have set the main picture on the homepage of this blog as an aerial shot of Manhattan, making it to New York before my month is up is very much an optimistic notion.
Despite the fact that the United States has been on my radar for a good few years, there is a large feeling of spontaneity to this tour. But as Oscar Wilde said, “spontaneity is a meticulously planned art”.
Whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be a trip to remember.
Let the games begin.