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.
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.
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.
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?