Six months into our first ever bicycle tour! Here are our impressions: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Favorite Things about Bicycle Touring
- Watching the landscape change as we cycle into a new region. Seeing the terrain and vegetation change slowly as you pedal along is awesome. Then there’s the drama of crossing a border into a new country on your bike. The language, culture, and people change instantly right before your eyes.
- The simple joy of pedaling. Riding along, chatting, singing, enjoying being outdoors and together. Stopping whenever we want to admire the view. Cruising along silently listening to the birds sing and the cows chew their cud. Being so happy we are not on public transportation. Intensifies greatly the day after a bus ride!
- All the attention we get from locals when we are on our bicycles away from tourist centers. The smiles, the waves, the conversations. Feeling like you are in a parade as you pass through a small village. Realizing how different most of the country is from the popular tourist destinations.
Least Favorite Things about Bicycle Touring
Sarah: The feeling of being exhausted and run-down along with the pressure of having to ride again the next day. I also hate being overheated and constantly sweating.
James: Those little moments where it suddenly hits me that I’m 27 years old, have no job and no income, and just spent $25,000 in six months.
- The disparity in our physical ability and having to figure out how to deal with it. This is something we never talked about before we left, but it turned out to be a big issue because we are confronted by it almost every day.
- How routine it can feel some days. Get up, eat, ride, eat some more, sleep. Repeat. I keep telling Sarah we are going to have the following conversation when we get back.
“Wow, that sounds like an amazing trip. You guys must have some amazing stories!”
“Not really, it was pretty mundane.”
Cue the world’s longest uncomfortable silence.
- Far and away, the hardest part about this trip was making the decision to go. After that, everything was easy. Figure out where you want to go, buy some bikes, point yourselves in the right direction and start pedaling.
- The only real hardship we’ve experience on this trip itself is the heat in Southeast Asia. I don’t think either of us could really envision what it would be like to cycle day after day in 40 degree heat with 95% humidity. Putting it simply, it sucks.
- Almost being attacked by monkeys attack in Prachuap Khiri Khan. I can still hear that low guttural growling that seemed to come in waves from the treetops.
- Sarah’s expanding eyeball in Ranong. When I look back, it doesn’t seem like it should have been that scary, but I literally had to sit down for a while to calm down when this happened. I think it was the combination of being new to Thailand and worried about all the bad things that could happen along with the tone of Sarah’s voice as she said “uh-oh” from the bathroom.
- The one thing we really wish we had was an altimeter so we’d have a record of what climbing gods we’ve become. On the other hand, we considered not brining a laptop but we’re really glad we did. It’s great for our pictures, working on our site, tracking our finances, and entertaining us with movies and music on those lonely nights on the road. Its one of the things we use almost every day.
- As for clothes, we’re still learning what we need and what we don’t. I had to buy some padded mountain-bike shorts in NZ because my new Brooks saddle was too uncomfortable. We are both carrying heavy hiking boots that we never use but we are afraid to get rid of them, “just in case.” Sarah’s two cotton t-shirts don’t dry fast enough, get soaked in sweat, and look dirty quickly, but the capilene Patagonia t-shirts I have are great. Sarah also hates all the pants and shorts she has for hot weather riding - she says they are ugly and uncomfortable.
These are the most memorable fights we have had so far. Don’t worry, we laugh about them now and there have been no threats of divorce.
How Low Can You Go?
He Said: I would rather live simply and really experience a new country than have the comforts of home like expensive cookies on a regular basis. We skipped some things I regret (like a tour of Milford Sound) in New Zealand but blew a lot of money on junk food that we could be sitting on our couch in Seattle eating. Sarah on the other hand refuses to give up her precious TimTams.
She Said: I want to treat myself to luxury items like beer, coffee, and cookies occasionally on this trip. During a physically demanding trip like this food becomes an obsession and after a hard day of climbing it is not a sin to want to buy some cookies or a pint of cold beer. I want to enjoy every single day and sometimes spending a little extra money to go out for a treat enhances the trip - eating gruel and going to bed right afterwards isn’t what I came here to do! This particular fight erupted after I claimed I’d rather eat TimTams every single night and go home early than deny myself of them for even one night. This is a little extreme and not my true opinion, but it was fun to throw in Jamie’s face at the time.
What Inferiority Complex?
He Said: Sometimes I feel like we are not cycling enough on this trip. Usually on a day we only rode for a couple of hours, when we’re sitting in a hotel room with nothing to do I wonder why we just didn’t keep riding. The more we ride, the more we can see, and the more we’ll get out of this trip, right? Not according to Sarah!
She Said: I don’t want to measure myself against other cycle tourists. Each trip and each person has different things they enjoy and thus different goals for their trip. Comparing ourselves to other cycle tourists and then feeling bad about what we’re doing is ridiculous. Instead we should focus on what we want to do and measure ourselves against our own priorities and objectives.
Lose the ‘tude!
He Said: Ask anyone what their response was when we told them about this trip. “Sarah? … Really?!” It was my response too and one of my biggest concerns about this trip was that Sarah wasn’t going to like it. I was afraid she was going to want to quit after two weeks when she realized she didn’t really like cycling that much. Because of that, I’m hypersensitive to the complaining she does when riding. There are two main scenarios when Sarah complains: when it is hot or when we are climbing in the mountains. If you combine those two, there is a 95% chance that she will suggest we think about taking a bus. That never fails to annoy me because that is usually when I am having the most fun!
She Said: One of the surprises for me on this trip is how physically difficult it is for me. I thought that after six months of touring I’d be almost as strong as James during our daily rides. In reality he’s still much stronger than me which means that things that are very difficult for me are typically fairly easy for him. When we ride a really long day, do big climb, or face extreme heat I eventually I have to admit that I’m exhausted, feel crappy, and don’t want to push myself much further. Jamie accuses me of complaining at the first twinge of discomfort and says really infuriating things like “I told you this trip would be difficult for you! I was worried this would happen! You have to keep going even if it is uncomfortable! You are giving up too easily!” I respond by saying that I have been feeling “uncomfortable” for quite some time and I am now approaching my limits. After all this I then get pissed off that he’s not being supportive and saying things like “We only have 20km more to go, you can make it. We can stop and rest every 5km if we need to, but we will make it.” Instead he says things like “You HAVE to make it because there are no other options.” This irritates me to no end. At the end of the fight Jamie is also irritated because he thinks I have a bad attitude and call it quits too soon.
Little Miss Ignorance vs. Mr. Doomsday
He Said: There have been half a dozen occurrences on this trip where Sarah has ignored some aspect of planning or preparation and it has screwed us. I should have taken it as a sign on the first day when we showed up at our flight from LA to New Zealand and the woman at the ticket counter asked us why we didn’t have visas for our stopover in Australia. After about the fourth time, I realized I shouldn’t rely on Sarah much for conscientious planing. In fact, it has proved fruitful to actually do the opposite of what she says! (Much like when she attempts to give directions.)
She Said: First of all, I am not at all ignorant. That was just a catchy fight-title. I am a planner and an organizer. I do not ignore impending tragedy and simply hope things will all work out or go away. Instead I assess a situation, brainstorm the possible actions to solving a problem, and then pick the best possible course of action (with a backup plan if necessary). Once I have determined by course of action, or the research I need to complete to make this decision, I promptly stop worrying about the problem. On the other hand, Jamie likes to lay awake for hours, tossing and turning, all the while dreading the possible horrible outcomes. He gets very upset with me when I don’t join in on the ulcer-inducing fretting and instead fall asleep promptly.