September 27, 2014 | Posted in:Musings
This is the first rambling in what I hope to be a series of such called Shifting Gears – How dramatically altering our lifestyle has affected us, how we have changed and are still changing, and how we grow from our experiences.
I already had some experience with travel, as well as with “roughing it”. The weekend-long or longer camp-out music festivals I attended in the 90’s and early 00’s taught me to embrace being a dirty free spirit (today’s fests offer a lot more creature comforts, like showers!). And thanks to my solo cross-country jaunt when I was 22, as well as many of the trips I have taken with Lewis, I am no stranger to not knowing where I am going to rest my head from one night to the next. Constantly packing and unpacking? Done that. However, this cycling adventure is pushing things like these to a new level that is taking some getting used to.
There are many things we have to remind ourselves of that were once just basic thoughtless routine. Brushing teeth, for example. It is one thing to forget to brush your teeth once or twice during a weekend outing, when you are heading back to the normal schedule on Monday morning. But to regularly skip this daily hygiene ritual once or twice a week or more? As I sit here at our campsite on Orcas Island, WA, sipping coffee from the Jetboil and watching Lewis experiment with fire-building techniques, I wonder did we brush our teeth last night? Yes… good. When living on the road, it is easy to become distracted and forget things like this, or to be too lazy to unpack the toiletries, or too tired from a long day – who wouldn’t rather go directly to sleep than fumble around in the dark with such a tedious chore? A habit of skipping it in such a situation, birthed from short-term excursions when we knew we would be back in the routine soon enough, could become a regular bad habit if we are not disciplined.
Along similar lines of hygiene… we don’t often have access to a shower. I am not one who needs to be squeaky clean and proper everyday… even when I lived with a shower, I would often skip a day and be fine, as long as I didn’t smell (noticeably) bad or do anything that caused me to be dirty or sweaty. Now, just existing in this new way of life makes me soiled and smelly, and quickly. Riding a bike for 4-7 hours a day does not leave one feeling fresh. When we are several days along without a shower, we can make do with public restrooms, baby wipes, and fresh clothing so as not to offend the waitress at the diner… but I can’t help but wonder, at what point does a bit of dirtiness start to be a health concern? Another thing we have to pay close attention to.
The packing and unpacking that goes along with bike touring is more tedious than we are used to, since it is happening on a daily basis and we have a lot more stuff than we have ever traveled with before. It is a time consuming process that we have to build hours into our mornings for, depending on the degree to which we unpacked the night before. It is frustrating when we get up at 6am but don’t hit the road before 11. Luckily that doesn’t happen often (usually only when we have stayed at a place for 5 days or more and have really settled in). We have streamlined the process quite a bit, and everything has a very specific spot; the bags are packed such that like is with like, and seldom used things are at the bottom, so that everything does not have to be unpacked every time. It has taken a while to get to this point, and it is still a work in progress. We have already sent some unused or unnecessary things away, and I am constantly contemplating what else we can get rid of. The fewer things we have, the simpler our lives become… something we all know, but now I am seeing quite clearly in action.
Another benefit of fewer things is lower weight to carry on the bikes. Right now we are carrying quite a lot compared to the typical bicycle tourist, because we are not just bicycle touring. We are traveling long term, as a lifestyle, and are not intending to be on the bikes every day. We need (or think we need) options. After 3 nights in the tent, having an opportunity to sleep in our hammocks is a great joy and luxury that I would be pained to give up. Our “kitchen” is minimal but more than most would carry, but we want to cook our own food as much as possible, with options of how to do it. For example, having small pots and a pan afforded us to have cooked apples and pears alongside our scrambled eggs this morning, and the Jetboil gets us quick coffee too. Not having a few options to allow creative cooking would lead us to eat at restaurants more than we care to afford. We also carry more clothing than is necessary for biking, but again, we are not spending all the time on the bikes. I especially, with my interest in fashion, want some varying outfits for when we spend a week in Portland, or a month somewhere in Mexico. But the weight may eventually get to us (or the bikes), and we may find ourselves sending more and more things home to our mothers.
The transition I am most eager to see is an increase in my strength and stamina. I was noticeably stronger after our short tour from Vermont to Saratoga, NY a few months ago, but we have not been steadily on the bikes since then, except for some days in Wisconsin, which is relatively flat. Riding Orcas Island recently was a challenge, and was my first feeling of real discouragement – if I cannot handle these hills, how can I make it over mountain passes in Chile? Everyone says you really get into a groove after two weeks of riding; I hope that groove includes the ability to power through long and steep grades.
All these challenges sound like a real pain in the ass! Ha! Well, it is true. But I love it. It is something different, something new; it all comes with the territory in this new life direction we have chosen to take. You know what else is a pain? Commuting to the office every day, and getting only precious short weeks to see the world. This is a trade we have been happy to make!
One-time fashion engineer and dress manipulator (retired indefinitely!), craftswoman jack-of-all-trades, creative problemsolver, aspiring artist, lover of musical and natural beauty, curious explorer of the human psyche and the self.