Livin' on the road!!!

Life on a bike for a day or a lifetime

Yowzers! In my two year round-the-world trip, I dreamed many times of writing this page! And here I am, at a library computer in the middle of the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts, doing exactly that. This page is FUN...I hope you'll read it, add to it, ask any questions or make any suggestions you have from your experiences touring, short or small. How I live on the road is a guide, but only that. Have a look at what others (you!) suggest, too.

(I) Livin' on the road: wild camping.

In many areas you will have campgrounds available, and these are usually worth the price for the security and services (showers, drinking water, etc) that they provide. This is esepcially the case if you are traveling with one other person and can split the cost of a site. While some campgrounds charge by the person and not just for a place, usually the former kicks in only after 3 or 4 occupants take a plot. Much the same can be said for motel rooms, which can be very very inexpensive outside of Europe and North America.

If you have selected your touring routes carefully and headed for them thar' hills, often you will find yourself in wooded areas and pasturelands. Here the problem is one of plenty: so many sites beckon..where to go? The sun is sinking in the west...where do i stay the night? Only a few probelms are likely to arise.

(II) Livin' on the road: wild cooking.

Well, i don't mean wild cooking; I mean, I mean cooking for yourself. Get a MSR stove or something similar: the only thing i insist is that the stove have a built in mechanism to ream out the fuel hole. If you don't have this it will jam, no matter what fuel you use. If you do have this, you can run your stove on ordinary gasoline and will have no problems. Once ya got the are Roughie the roadside gourmet's cooking tips.

(III) Wild Cooking in mountainous areas.

If you are traveling in remote areas in the mountains, you'll need to carry food for perhaps a few days. Cycling is not like backpacking...coming to a place where food is sold or served is bound to happen sooner or later. You are on a road after all; not a trail to some lofty summit. I often have cyclists ask me about Mountain House or similar vacuum dried foods! BAH! Not only are they outrageously expensive, loaded with salt and preservatives, and TOO SMALL A PORTION (unless ya buy 5 or six of them for one meal), but they taste about as good as the package which contains them. Other cyclists have actually asked me about MREs, the military 'meals ready to eat'!!! Far far better alternatives exist.

(IV) Defensive Cycling Skills

Get a helmet and a rear view mirror and the cycling skills and pointers I give here will become second nature to you. Enjoying safety on the road is a full time job, and its not as simple as 'finding a rural area with light traffic.' It only takes one car or truck to kill you! And don't forget country lanes are often narrow and winding...heck, thats half the fun! But its also all the danger.
Your task is simple. Use your helmet mounted rear view mirror-- which should be clearly in your line of sight with only the slightest need to 'warp' your eyeball in order to look behind you-- to take regular glances at the road behind you. (V) Livin' on the road: beating the rain I talked alot about 'beating the rain' in the previous section when I covered clothing, specifically Waterproof Raingear. Here I talk about beating the rain for the rest of your equipment. Obviously the bicycle is going to get wet and the moisture will slither its way into your bearings and bottom bracket. Your only choice here is to wait sunnier times and repack your bearings then. It'll do no good to repack them just to have them get wet the next day after day. The chain, freewheel and chainrings sure could use a spray of WD-40 during these morose periods, but the stuff wears off pretty quick if the rain is heavy or the roadway is wet. Face up to the fact that your BIKE will have a pretty miserable time in miserable weather. But then again...misery loves company, doesn't it?

The equipment in your panniers is another matter. There is no reason for the stuff in your bags--especially your journals, camera, documents, and such-- to get wet whatsoever. They should be kept sealed inside fairly thick mil plastic bags. Try to remove them as little as possible when the weather is lousy so that they don't get dripped to death while you are on the road.

Clothing and your sleeping bag are the real crucial things to keep dry for as long as possible. In a sustained stretch of rainy weather all your clothing will get wet evwentually: what you wear today gets wet..then tomorrow..then the next day. Its a death spiral of misery, folks! You need to have a warm enough, clear enough and low enough humidity day that you can dry your clothes..unless of course you stay indoors (which is not out of the question by any means in many areas) where it is warm from time to time.
This tempts many cyclists into trying Waterproof panniers. This is a mistake: water resistant, breatheably nylon panniers give you more flexibility. With waterproof bags, of which Ortliebs are the most notable, yes..what goes in dry stays dry. But also, what goes in wet stays wet. And in fact what goes in wet gets everything else wet, too, UNLESS YOU PUT THE WET STUFF IN A SEPARATE PLASTIC BAG..which voids the whole point of Ortliebs to begin with. It is far better to use much lighter nylon breatheable panniers and use plastic bags to keep your dry stuff dry, and your wet stuff separated in plastic bags of their own.

Yet a lot of dissatisfaction is encountered in this system. In my experience there are several reasons for this.

Don't jump the gun and stay indoors during rainy or showery weather sooner than you have to. Remember this: Even if you stay at the Waldor Astoria, if it is still pouring when you leave the next morning, in an hour or so you'll be just as miserable as if ya spent the night camping! Maybe even more so as you remember the soft pillows and hot shower. In contrast, if the next day is sunny you'll kick yourself because you can dry your stuff in the sunny weather! So save the motels or hostels for those times when you get a real chain of dreary days. The more cycling experience you get, the more tolerance for dreary conditions you will is just part of the ferociousness that long distance cyclists get after a while. I have my share, but am by no means as rugged as some I have met.
Of course any place larger than a small town is likely to have a laundromat, so a couple of quarters and you are back in the saddle! Camping grounds often have them also, in the USA and Europe.
Don't get imtimidated by all these possibilities and look on the bad side. Its the exact opposite...something will always be in your favor. If its just a period of intermittent showers, dry off in between them. This was common on my trip in France, the alps and into the balkans. If the rain becomes persistent and steady, in settled areas you can use laundromats; I did this along Spain's Camino Santiago, where i had drippy weather for almost ten days. In rural areas you can just light a small fire at the end of the day. And then when ya finally cave in and stay indoors or somewhere warm and cozy, you can feel you earned it by doing the best you could up to that point! 1