Adventure, Bicycling, The Great Adventure

What is a Day on the Road Like for a Bicyclist?

Long-distance biking is thrilling and tough. It’s an experience most people never have. We’ve all done road trips in a car with junk food and loud music. Bike trips are different. Here’s what it’s like.

The things you see in Minnesota.

Evening

Every evening I decide where I’ll sleep. This is the biggest unknown of the whole production. To some, this question mark alone would ruin the lifestyle. For me it’s a comfortable insecurity. (I’m often told I’m crazy, or sometimes that I’m brave. The truth is I built up toward it through years of lesser adventure.)

So where do I go? Most nights I camp out, and not in an official campground. Anywhere there is state land I can likely slink into the trees with no problem. If I need to use private land I don’t trespass, I ask permission. If you ask country people where you can camp out the answer is frequently their yard/empty field/back ten acres of woods.

A good camping site has the following features:

  • Close to the road and easy to wheel my bike over there (no ravine, steep hill, thick brush etc.)
  • It’s hard to see from the road
  • At least four stout trees to hang my hammock from, usually pine (can make do with just two if needed)
  • Not fenced, walled or marked as private property

I never worry about fires or water. I don’t do campfires—too much perceived risk in the absence of an official campsite, and who needs ’em anyway?—and I never need to draw water in the evening or morning. I carry three liters of drinkable water at all times and fill them up at every gas station.

When I find a spot I unpack essentials first: my hammock, blankets, and night time clothes. Mostly I hang the hammock haphazardly. If storms threaten the night I take great care hanging the hammock and its rain fly to shelter me from the wind.

Night clothes involve a warm sweater and long pants, even on hot summer nights. The hammock is breezy. I put my phone, flashlight and pepper spray in the hammock. They rest in little pockets hanging from the roof line, ready to grab.

Then I eat a cold meal of trail mix (if I’m hungry, often not). I drink about a liter of water and brush my teeth. I keep most of my gear stowed on my bike, but if I expect rain I lash my rain jacket over it and park it in the hammock’s lee. I enter my hammock by 10, sometimes read, and fall asleep by 11. This is very early for me.

One of my actual campsites.

Morning

I wake up late. I’ve tried every morning to be up at some early hour: the body rebels. Given what my body is adapting to, I let it have its way. I’m up by 9 or 10.

I feel great every morning. Thanks to the hammock there is no hint of stiffness, no neck or back pain, no “slept on it wrong.” With 6+ hours of daily cardio there’s no such thing as the Mondays. No matter what conditions I face in the day ahead, my body feels ready, thrilled, eager. It is ready to live as it should.

For breakfast I repeat the trail mix meal and drink another liter of water. I pee suspiciously less than 2 liters of water. I watch my pee intently. Your pee is your canary. Dark, amber colored pee (or worse, coffee) is a sign of under-hydration. My pee comes out a clear wheat color.

Departing takes nonsensically long. Two hours. Many days I don’t leave till noon. This time includes 30-40 minutes of yoga and abdominal workout. It also includes the painful process of re-packing everything for a day of travel on the Giant.

Glorious Days

The days soar by. There’s nothing regrettable about a day spent biking. Rain, heat wave: it doesn’t matter. To use all of your muscles and go faster than a horse; that is living.

Heat generally can’t be noticed. Once underway you have a continuous breeze. Stay hydrated and you’re fine (though be on guard for sunburn.) Rain is surprisingly fun to bike through. Biking in a storm is an exercise in warriorship. The mind must be totally aware of a dozen factors at once, the body poised to respond. Roads are slippery, traffic reckless, lightning still some distance off—how close? Will the wind bring it closer? Like fencing, it hits centers of the brain that most people never use.

Head winds can be hard. They’re the only source of true frustration in this lifestyle. (Which speaks to a failure on my part: why am I pushing on in a day when there are headwinds? Relax for a day and wait until the wind changes!)

People are funny on the Adventure. The biggest question they ask is how I pay for my trip. They ask this with a sneer, awaiting a trust fund story. I tell them I work three days a week everywhere I go and suddenly they are my friend. Oh, okay, he’s alright then—we don’t have to stone this guy. What the fuck? I do understand this grim little corner of human psychology, I just think it’s one of our worst.

I make sure I don’t smell. I’m very sensitive to this, I never want to be offensive to deal with. I’m amazed that my sweat “runs clean” as I like to say. I drench my clothes in sweat all day, then hang them up at night and put them back on in the morning. But somehow they never, ever smell bad (and neither do the pits). Sure I use deodorant, and swim or shower whenever I can. But the idea that my sweat doesn’t reek still feels like magic to me. A little miracle of extended adventure.

I may get rid of my extra undies, if this keeps up.

Do you have questions about life on the Adventure?

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18 thoughts on “What is a Day on the Road Like for a Bicyclist?

    • Arden says:

      I’m wondering about your food in general! Nate said he ate gas station food, but it seems you’re doing better than that. Do you have a gameplan or do you just do the best you can wherever you are?

      For work, do you find wifi or are you doing the hotspot thing?

      • Philip says:

        Posting so that I’ll receive the following reply, but I’m curious about the diet as well. (Are you really only eating 2 meals a day of trail mix?)

      • I try to avoid gas station food, other than buying trail mix ingredients there.

        Typicially I budget $6/day for food. On alternating days, this means either (a) spending up to $6 replenishing my trail mix container, which is a staple of light grazing all day long, anytime I stop; and (b) actually buying the ingredients of a healthy (cold) meal at a supermarket, like fruit, whole grain bread and meat for sandwich, etc.

        Occasionally I do buy a hot meal, or purchase coffee or a treat, usually on a rest day when I’m at an establishment with wifi.

        I find that my appetite is greatly reduced while being this active. I suspect this is partly the way my “correct” metabolism is (my body is designed for endurance activity), and partly that my appetite will return when I burn off my fat reserves about 20 pounds from now.

        I’d estimate I consume between 1100 and 2000 calories a day. When I lived a settled life before I ate more like 2500-3000 calories a day, which is about what I eat when taking a few days off and staying with friends now.

        For work, I usually look for a comfortable place with wi-fi.

        • Beth says:

          That’s fascinating. I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s true, I’m generally less hungry (and don’t crave sweets) if I’ve been active as well. The heat also drops my appetite dramatically.

        • Arden says:

          It sounds like you’re learning quite a bit about your body. In the past, while camping or traveling for more than a week or so, I’ve found my appetite regulates in a similar sort of way, but it will definitely be interesting to see if your caloric needs alter in any way.

          I’d agree with Beth below, the physical activity/mental state of mind connection might make for a great post!

    • Yep! As Kira indicates, I gave away the sack of lentils to her, Tony & fam when I visited them near Cloquet.

      If anyone doesn’t know, I had lentils which I planned to slow-soak in a water bottle each day for a cold but healthy, protein-rich dinner at night. This works fine, but my appetite was nothing near as ravenous as I expected which makes it hard to slug down more than a few bites of cold unseasoned lentils. The result was I ended up keeping them (the soaked ones) too long and they started to ferment…. I gave up on the the whole process and gave away the (uncooked, dry, safe) lentils shortly after.

  1. nickiofcourse says:

    Cullen, who is a long distance runner, sweats clean too. Probably a sign of cleaner insides. What goes in is used and what’s not needed comes out, you know? Good, clean cycle. Like!

    • Exactly! I love it. The transformation of my body also transforms my state of mind. It’s stunning how much of our mental health really just comes from our physical activities.

    • They might change with the seasons due to less daylight, but I won’t be experiencing cold weather anymore – not unless I’m high up in mountains. I’ll reach the American South by autumn and then be in subtropical or tropical zones for the rest of the trip.

  2. Rua Lupa says:

    “Do you have questions about life on the Adventure?”

    Do you find yourself targeting objects in your morning intently watching pee ritual? Also, where do you prefer to crap? At a gas station, leaning against a tree, hanging over a log or the squat?

    *going for the low brow humor and hopes it doesn’t come off creepy*

    • Oh you creeper you…. how dare you :)

      Nah I love these questions. So here goes:

        Pee targeting. If I’m tired or in a hurry I don’t really target it too much. On the other hand if I’m in a good mood I may find myself trying to water certain flowers or knock them down with the stream. They don’t mind after all and pee power is a thing of great beauty. That said in all cases I abide by some sensible outdoor policies: don’t pee on tree trunks (porcupines may chew them for the salt, destroy the tree) or in bodies of water (you may want to use that water for something).
        Number Two. In general I love pooping outside for reasons that may demand a post of their own. Short anwswer: squatting outside is better for your health and can be a really pleasant outdoors experience.

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