How does one get ready for a bike trip?
Like everything, it’s going to vary person to person. But since I’m getting ready for a trip now, and since it’s something lots of people ask me about, here goes: how stasia (typically) gets ready for a trip. This is probably not an exhaustive list, just an overview. Don’t take it as the end-all of bike planning, please, just a way to start thinking about it.
1. Get psyched
It helps to have something you’re pretty darn excited about. In this case, I’m about to embark on a trip that (hopefully!) takes me to several places in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho that I’ve wanted to go explore for a while. It’s something I wanted to do last year but couldn’t work out logistically. In fact, I’m still not sure it’s logistically feasible, but gosh darn it! I have three weeks, I’m gonna give it a try:)
So yeah. It helps to have at least one place in the world that you want to go.
2. Figure out what’s possible
For me, that means lots and lots of looking at maps. It helps that I love (love love love love) maps and all the potential they contain, and I like to scheme about the places to which they can lead me. Generally, I take a giant Benchmark Atlas of the place I want to go, rip out the overview page for context, and then start flipping around trying to find the roads that look interesting — that is, I look for the little, winding roads, the roads that go through the wilderness areas or along the waters. Not the big, fat, heavily trafficked interstate roads that go directly from one place to the next. This is something I haven’t yet figured out how to do well on the internet without street-viewing thousands of miles (which I am way not into), figure out which roads are likely to be good for biking. It’s easier, though not foolproof, for me to tell with physical maps that delineate road size, surface type, and the like.
When I have an idea of where I want to go, I rip the appropriate map pages out of the atlas and then take them with me on my trip. That’s how I route-find as I bike, luddite that I am, both because I don’t have a smartphone or GPS to tell me where to go and also because, as I said, I really like poring over maps, old-school style:)
I generally figure that 60 miles per day is a good baseline — though I may end up going further, that gives me the flexibility to park in one spot for a few days and hike around without feeling like I’m not going to get home on time. Which is essential for trips like this, because I’m hoping to do a fair bit of hiking.
3. Forget about what’s possible
You know that 60-miles-per-day number I just mentioned? I use it as a baseline, and then I forget about it: once I get biking, I’ll see how fast I actually end up going, and re-tool my route from there. Yes, this means that sometimes I go way, way faster than I imagined and get to add new fun things to my trip, and sometimes it means that I have to take a shortcut or two to make up for lost time.
That kind of ambiguity works for me because I hate itineraries and actually really enjoy making up my way as I go. Plus, there’s the added benefit that I rarely feel like I “have” to get somewhere, and I end up with the flexibility to change my mind once I see what a new place has to offer. It also works for me because I’m comfortable stealth camping when I need to stop. If you’re someone who needs to know where you’re going to sleep that night, you might want to be a little more rigid in your scheduling.
And no, I’ve never ended up in the “oh shit I have 2,000 miles to go and I have to be home tomorrow” camp, since I monitor my route all along and adjust as I go. So though I’m forgetting about what’s possible, I’m also keeping my eye on how I’m doing, and I constantly adjust my expectations accordingly.
4. Figure out the gear
Back in the day, I made myself a general gear list, and no matter how many times I’ve gone bike camping, I always revisit it. Do I always take the same things? No, but I use that list as a baseline, just like I use 60miles/day as a baseline, and then decide what I actually want on a case-by-case basis.
I’m not sure I want to write out my whole list since you can see much of it illustrated here, but it can be broken down into four categories:
- clothes and toiletries
- food and water-carrying capacity
- camping equipment
- bike tools and accessories
And actually, I guess I’d put a miscellaneous catch-all category in there too, to encapsulate things like a phone charger, camera, and journal.
My general rule of thumb is that if I can take things that serve a dual purpose, I’d rather do that than take two separate things. So if I can bring a short-sleeved shirt and arm warmers, I don’t need a whole extra long-sleeved shirt. If I have a spoon, I don’t need a fork. For example.
5. Buy any needed tickets
It’s elegant but not always practical to leave right from your doorstep and return to your garage. This is where, for me, the Amtrak train comes in. Some Amtrak stations have “roll on” service, where you can simply roll your bike up to the train and have the attendant put it on a hook for you until you get off. Others will have checked baggage service, where you can put your bike in a box (which is super easy; you can read about it here) and check it as luggage. The only tricky thing with incorporating a train is making sure that the station you want to go to actually has the services you need. The Amtrak site tries to make it easy for you here: you can search for a specific station (or a range of stations in a given area) and it will tell you what amenities are available.
Just to put that all into context, I wanted to take the train to West Glacier for this trip, but they don’t have checked baggage service there, which means I wouldn’t be able to get my bike off the train. So I’m going to Whitefish instead, the closest station to the west that does have baggage service — which is somewhat inconvenient, but it still gives me, oh, a 700 or so mile head start over leaving from Portland, so I can’t complain too much.
6. Get after it!
Scheming an adventure is fun, but when it gets down to it, you just have to throw yourself out there. You know what the best thing is? Unless you’re going somewhere super crazy extreme remote, if you forgot something or decide you need something different, you can almost always find it (or something that will stand in for it) on the way. It’s all going to work out.
So that being said, I’ll be taking a three-week break from this blog while I go find some cool places and try not to get eaten by grizzly bears in Montana. PSYCHED!! More to come, but probably not for a while!:)