Seven things I learned whilst being on a bike tour

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

– A.A. Milne

This post has been a long time coming. Having sat stagnant on my desktop for a few weeks now, I’m finally posting it up, even though I know that my list of learning still keeps on growing. But for now, here are seven things I learned whilst being on a bike tour:

1. You are so small, and the world is so big.

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m very often in my head. I don’t know why that is (well, I’m sure if we sat down and had a real deep discussion about it I could find out), but I’ve always been the kind of person who thinks a lot. The bane of that way of being is that eventually you can get stuck there. And at one point in my life I did. I tried to venture back into being in my body, but I just couldn’t remember how. It was like my body (and as a result my feelings) was an old house to which I’d forgotten the directions to.

Bicycle touring was a great avenue for me to reconnect with my body. My body would tell me how it was feeling, when it needed rest, what it wanted to eat, and when it was out of fuel or water. And not only that, I began to experience myself no longer at the centre of all experiences. Instead I started to see myself as a small piece in the whole larger puzzle of life. It’s hard to convince yourself that the entire world only exists in your head when you’re just a tiny speck of a person on a tiny tin can bike out on a vast freeway surrounded by a limitless landscape that stretches as far as you can see. You start to get a much clearer, and in my opinion, a much truer sense of the scale of your life in the greater scheme of things.

2. Things will come and then things will go.

When you‘re bike touring, that excruciating feeling in your legs as you’re doing a lengthy climb up a hill with the weight of all your panniers and racks and your bike underneath you will at some point not be there anymore. And on the other side of that, the exhilarating joy that you feel rolling down the side of a mountain will soon be gone too. Bike touring taught me a lot about the impermanence and transiency of feelings.

For me I also found that this lent itself to other life situations as well. That loneliness that I might’ve felt on a Friday night wasn’t there forever – it eventually passed. That sense of awe at my own physical ability that I discovered on my first bike tour – that feeling of surprise and appreciation has slowly come and gone. Bike touring made me understand so much more clearly and tangibly that feelings come and go.

Funnily enough I also started to value and pay attention to my feelings a whole lot more. When you recognise that they are just feelings – just clouds in the sky of your existence – it frees you up to be a lot more curious and non-judgmental about yourself and about what you think and feel.

3. At the end of the day, sometimes the only option left is to accept, accept, accept.

Being someone who has often liked to be in control, one of the biggest things I learned whilst being on a bike is that often you’re not, and the only thing you can do that will bring about any good is to accept it. For example, that hill isn’t going to go away and there may be no way to get to the other side but to ride over it. Your destination isn’t going to get any closer unless you continue riding in that there direction. You’re not going to have any more food until you pedal yourself to the nearest gas station or town. And those trucks and cars may not drive any safer no matter how hard you try to ride defensively or to assert for your space on the road.

When I was adventuring on a bike I naturally and inevitably came to accept just how small I am in the scheme of things, It was a real tangible and lived reminder that the only thing that you can control is you. For me it then became less about changing my external world, and more about changing how I interacted with it.

4. When you learn to accept your external world, eventually you learn to accept and love your internal world too.

So what if you need to stop and rest five times as you’re going up a tough hill? Or ten? Or twenty? If you do, you do, and on a bike no amount of pretending or trying will hide the reality of what you actually can and can’t do. Are you feeling like you should ride faster, but you really want to stop at some scenic lookouts or small towns? Do you find yourself singing as you’re riding, even though you hate the sound of your own voice?

I found that when I was on my solo bike tour, I couldn’t help but be confronted with a growing sense of who I was. Sometimes it was uncomfortable, and sometimes it was surprising and pleasant. And eventually armed with the realisation that no one else was going to show up in that space but me, I figured I might as well start to appreciate and love myself for all that I am. As a result, I started to get curious about who she was. Who was this person, to whom I’d been so disconnected to my entire life?

5. Your inner critic sometimes just gets in the way.

Eventually I also realised that there comes a time on a solo bike tour when it gets old to be so judgmental and snarky towards yourself. I heard my inner critic appear over and over again as I was riding: “What, you can’t ride as fast as she can?” “Geez, you’re so sweaty and dirty: you look terrible.” “Look at you, reaching for junk food again. I knew you couldn’t keep up that diet.” And I came to realise that all that voice did to me was judge me. It didn’t really help me get up that hill. It didn’t really help me get any more comfortable. It didn’t made things any easier for me. It just got in the way, and as the days passed, it slowly became a pain I chose to do without.

6. Your day, your night, and your life are all in your hands. It’s completely up to you.

When you tour solo, every decision you need to make is completely in your own hands. How much do you ride today? How much will you commit to riding up that hill? Where and when will you take your breaks? It’s all up to you. You’re the one responsible for making sure you’re safe, and that you’ve got everything you need. You’re the one responsible for knowing if you’ve had enough, or if you go or could push yourself a little more. You’ll be the only one who knows what you need, and it’s your responsibility to be on top of that.

In that sense solo bike touring is an amazing way of not only getting to know who you are, but of then coming to own your life and your shit. Every missed opportunity is an opportunity you chose to miss, and every detour is a detour you choose to take as well.

7. Lastly (and if you’re like me, you may not have realised this before), you are pretty freaking awesome and you will be able to do it.

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. For me, I really surprised myself on my bike tour. I’d just come out of a relationship in which I started to think that everything was my fault – all of our fights, all of our problems, and all of our issues. I believed it too. As a result, I forgot how to love, appreciate and be kind to myself. I forgot my own worth.

When I went on this bike tour, I went and did something that scared the living daylights out of me. I still remember how shit scared I was as I was packing my bike up. “What are you doing?”, I’d ask myself, “You don’t even know how to properly ride a bike”. But what ended up happening was that I massively impressed and surprised myself. I came to realise that anything really is possible, as long as you set your heart and your mind to it. I mean, I was living proof of this.

And sure, some things take longer than a 10 day solo bike tour, but the theory is the same. It’s just about sticking to it. And who knows? You’ll be surprised where you end up.

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18 thoughts on “Seven things I learned whilst being on a bike tour

  1. Jack Day says:

    Thanks for writing those down. Myself, one thing I would add is increased confidence. In the past, when I saw a mountain in my way up ahead, I’d cringe and say, “This is going to be bad, real bad.” Now I look upon this as a challenge. I smile and say, “I’m going to kick your ass.” This has everyday applications in normal life, also.

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  2. Amy says:

    Great post! I’m set to leave for a TransAm ride in mid-May (east to west). Going on a solo ride is both exciting and so daunting, and it helps to look at the ride as a way to learn and grow. Thanks for your words! I’ll think about “accept, accept, accept” as I’m climbing those hills!

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  3. Michael Hegarty says:

    Excellent post. Im about 1 millimetre away from dropping everything and going off on my own to find out what i really am. You have inspired me.

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  4. Jeffrey Fritts says:

    You cannot begin to know how much your words mean to me. In my sixties, having lived some life, I sit in the comfort of my home with gear spread around me for my first long-distance tour. I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I am 25 days and a wake-up from a trans-America tour. Of course I have doubts. Of course I feel my lack of self confidence welling up from deep inside. A long time adversary to my accomplishment of life goals large and small. In 25 days I will ride away from my comfort zone. I will discover what it is really like to finally depend upon myself. I will understand that I can. Thank you for your sage words of wisdom. Jeffrey Fritts, Walla Walla, WA. USA

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    • The Diaries of Camp Impossible says:

      Jeffrey, I’m touched that my words meant a lot to you. You sound like you’re in for the trip of a lifetime, and considering how scared you feel, you’re that much more braver for going ahead. For me I took it day by day, kept my head on, and then opened myself up to experience of being on the road. Sure, I was scared, but I soon found a comfort zone on the road. I’m sure you will do. Enjoy your tour, it’s going to be amazing :). Angela

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      • jeffreyfritts says:

        Thanks Angela, I am actually already a world traveler. I was a load master on the C-130 in the US Air Force for 26 years. Traveling with the backing of the USAF is easy, unless you are on a combat mission of course, then all bets are off. I have been to 23 different countries and all over the United States. New challenges are always interesting, however. So this is going to be real interesting.

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    • Jack Day says:

      Hey Jeffery. It’s easy-peasy. My first cross country was at 67. This year will be my fifth tour since retirement. You can do 30-50 miles at home. On tour, you just get up and do it again, everyday. And you never know what is around that next bend. It’s almost always good. And the people you meet are like minded. When you are finally done you will say, “That is the most fun I’ve ever had.”

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  5. patpalloon says:

    Great post! Through small steps you can make a huge journey. I cycled the whole way around Spain last year, about 2000 miles. It seemed daunting at times, but if you break the journey up one day at a time it is doable and all the small steps add up.

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  6. Kip says:

    Awesome! Last year I got off a plane in Munich, went to Oktoberfest, rented a bike, unprepared for the rigors ahead, with a backpack and a bike NOT meant for touring and I stormed into Salzburg, climbing the mountains of my dreams as a youth singing Rogers and Hammerstein and not caring who heard me; up hills and down hills, in October, peddling West, stopping every 20 minutes on a bike that would only change three gears, making it halfway to Vienna, not caring where I ended up, and a shotty gps device to guide me. When I realized that living on 1.5 Euro a day and not ready for the winter ahead was a bit silly. But I did it, for four weeks, camped on farms, knocked on doors to ask permission in more urban area’s. I left a boozed face, 6 feet 220 pd 30 year old, and came back a chiseled, almost emaciated, 178, and a six pack, and every day, once back to the evils of man made foods and the poison of booze and pasteurized and processed foods, every day, I cant wait again to take the plunge to another place and just…let…go!

    Thank you for your great post! CHOW!

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    • Quicksilver says:

      Good luck in all your future endeavours
      I am dithering over panniers at the moment, but your post was brill,it will give me the push to get out and cycle,cycle,cycle.

      Liked by 1 person

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