I call it slow travel. Like slow cooking that brings out the flavor and the juices of a stew or roast, travel by bicycle allows time to savor the scenery. It is an entirely different experience compared to driving down the highway between 55 and 70 mph, seated behind a protective windshield.
It’s a mode of travel I strongly recommend. For those who think they’d never get farther than 10 miles on their own power, 10 miles is just fine. With time, 10 miles turns into 20 and 20 into 30 and beyond.
It need not be fast. Even when I’m pushing it, I’m on the slow end of the spectrum. I’ve learned to accept that and just enjoy the scenery since I have all that time to look.
For those who might want to give bicycle touring a try, there are basically three modes. First is going self-contained with the bike loaded down to carry what is needed not only for a day but also for camping and getting through the night. Second is what I call the “credit card” tour where a rider carries what is needed for the entire trip but nights are spent in a motel with evening meals in restaurants. This eliminates the need to haul camping and cooking gear. The third type is supported bike touring where a person carries gear just for the day while their duffle is transported via vehicle by someone else.
Each of the modes has merit.
I’ve gone self-contained only a few times but the sense of freedom is unparalleled. Once I biked from Yellowstone to Rawlins, along the Great Divide Bicycle Route. This gravel-road route follows much of the Continental Divide by first edging along the southern boundary of Yellowstone and then tackling Togwotee and Union passes. It loops past South Pass and then crosses the vast Great Divide Basin and south to Rawlins. For that trip, I pedaled a mountain bike and hauled my gear in a trailer attached to my bike.
I went to panniers, those bags that hang on a bicycle, and a skinny-tired road bike when I pedaled from Laramie to my family reunion in southern Colorado. I camped along the way but treated myself to a night in a bed-and-breakfast halfway through my trip. That hot shower was hard to beat. With the loaded bike, going up and over Hoosiers Pass at a breath-talking 11,542 feet was particularly challenging. Dare I admit I resorted, at one point, to pushing the bike up the steep grade. I always figure that as long as I’m still moving forward, it doesn’t matter if some of it requires bike-hiking instead.
I’ve done the “credit card” ride only once but it was a wonderful ride.
I joined two friends and we pedaled the length of the C&O Canal that runs through Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia before ending in Washington, D.C. We pedaled by day, then went into one of the nearby towns for a motel and restaurant meal each night. Because of high mosquito densities and a torrential downpour one night, having the motel respite each night was quite a treat.
My favorite mode of bicycle touring, though, is supported. This mode covers a wide range of options that vary in size, amenities and cost. First there’s the big event rides. The largest is RAGBRAI, hosted annually in Iowa, where as many as 10,000 riders haul across the state. I’ve never participated in this event and, frankly, it is not my cup of tea to ride with that many people. Still, I have friends who return year after year.
I’m Director of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour where we host 350 riders for six days in July. This is considered a mid-sized bike tour and is a great way for novices to learn more about bicycle travel while in the company of more experienced riders. I love the “vibe” of the ride and the fun of having entertainment and other activities when off the bike.
My favorite, though, is the small group supported ride. I like riding with maybe a dozen other people where I carry what I need for the day and a van carries everything else. I prefer camping rather than doing motels but supported small groups tours can be found to fit whatever mode and daily mileage a person prefers.
Regardless of the mode, give bicycle touring a try if you don’t mind taking it slow. Smell the roses, watch the butterflies and even take a pause from time to time to savor the experience. Bicycle travel really is worth the time and effort; the world gets a whole lot bigger at a slower pace. Tune in next week for Bicycle Touring Part II: What you need to get started.
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.