Have you ever had a big adventure idea, and everyone told you that you’re crazy for it? Well, we might be a little crazy, but we are definitely adventurous and so we did it:
Cedric and I cycled from Canada to Mexico! It took us three months to complete about 3,000 miles. And it was so worth it! We cycled through the green woods of Vancouver Island, were amazed by the beauty of Oregon’s coastline, fell in love with cities like Seattle and San Francisco and enjoyed the California sun for 40 days in the row.
We have been cycling for quite a while, but this trip was going to be the first big one. Since we had just graduated from University, it was the perfect timing for our biking adventure. We started preparing for the trip about four months ahead, including a biking trip from Munich to Bratislava. This 12-day trip was good training for a longer adventure, especially with figuring out what to bring, what not to bring and how important GOOD rain gear is. It was also a great opportunity to try out our saddles. Cedric is a Brooks leather saddle guy and I’m a SQlab girl. Every butt is unique and you need to take your time to find “the one.”
For all of you who are thinking about a long-distance bicycle touring trip: start planning! Here are some tips that might help you with your adventure.
Five Planning Tips
- Timing & Flexibility: Allow yourself enough time. Since you are on a bike, you can’t make big side trips and that means you can’t see everything. It is good to have a rough itinerary. But stay flexible and let things happen. We adjusted our route the first day and it was the right choice. It allowed us more time and less pressure.
- What to Bring: Less is more. If you already have a favorite pair of biking shorts, you don’t need a second one. While packing, always keep in mind: you have to carry this item a loooong way!
- Weather Conditions: We started in April and finished in the middle of July. Despite some colder nights, we got really lucky with the weather. Extreme weather conditions (too hot or too cold) can make a trip quite demanding and less fun. A good example is the wind: everyone told us that riding from North to South would be better since the wind is constantly blowing that way. So we rode with the wind instead against it.
- Daily Distance: What we also learned on the first day is to consider the elevation gain per day, not just the distance. We were planning a certain average distance per day, but the Canadian hills made us rethink this whole plan.
- Guidebooks: So there are travel guides, biking trip guides, outdoor guides, and so on. Since your luggage is limited and you don’t want to carry tons of books over the country, take pictures of the most important stuff. We read quite a few travel guides (British Columbia, US West Coast, California, US National Parks), took pictures of interesting things and put them into a folder on my tablet. Whenever we came close to a sight, we looked into that folder.
One guide did make it into our bags and we are so glad we took it with us. Bicycling the Pacific Coast by V. Spring and T. Kirkendall was an exceptional help. Although it was written quite a while ago, it has a good overview of campsites and suggestions about daily rides. We orientated ourselves on these daily rides and sometimes adjusted if the elevation was too much for one day. Along the way we met many cyclists who were reading this guide while having dinner at the campsite in preparation for the next day.
But most essential of all are the right bikes! Your bike becomes your closest companion whom you have to trust and always keep an eye on. We brought our bikes with us from Germany, because we felt better having our own well-known bikes on this trip. A lot of people asked us about the brand and even small boys were whispering ‘awesome bikes’ as we passed them by. And yes, they are really awesome! They are trekking bikes by the German brand ROSE and did a great job.
5 Bike Tips
- Flying with a Bike: Depending on the airline you have different options to transport bikes. We had to put the bikes into cardboard boxes. If you start at one airport and depart from another, you can’t carry a box with you. In San Diego we went to a bicycle shop and they gave us boxes for the flight back home. Bike shops often have leftovers from new bikes. Just call a few days ahead before you actually need them.
- USB Port Bicycle Lamp: As we used offline maps on our phones to navigate, we had to make sure to always have enough battery. That’s why we spent a little more money on the lamp, but it was so worth it. It is absolutely convenient and made other cyclists jealous. While cycling, you can charge your phone, although it just works when the road is flat or you go downhill. As a backup we brought two external battery power banks as well.
- Rearview Mirror: We found this very helpful. The whole bike has a lot of weight and it can be dangerous trying to turn and look over your shoulder. We were cycling down Highway 101 and 1 for the most part with shoulders that were sometimes non-existent, especially in California. If there is a truck behind you, you want to know how big and how close it is.
- Bags: Since we were going to be outdoors for about 95% of the time, we wanted our stuff dry and securely stored. Like many other cyclists we were equipped with the waterproof ORTLIEB bicycle bags and were completely satisfied.
- Tires: The highways were pretty dirty with gravel and metal pieces. We were glad to have strong tires on our bikes which have a special puncture protection. They are supposed to be “flat-less”. Well, they were for the most part – we only got three flat tires on the whole trip.
For the most part of the trip we camped and it worked out just great. Washington, Oregon and northern California have a great State Park System with hiker & biker sites. They always had a space for us and the cost was reasonable, averaging $6 per person.
We put our camping equipment through the wringer. The new NeoAir Xlite SV gave us the rest we needed after a long day on the bikes. From cold nights up on Vancouver Island to warm nights down in Southern California, we stayed warm and comfortable in combination with the Mira and Antares sleeping bags.
5 more tips to make the most out of your trip
- Explore Cities by Bike: It seems tempting to leave the bikes at the hotel and hop on a bus. But we enjoyed strolling through the neighborhoods of San Francisco or along the Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. You see different angles of the city and it’s cheaper!
- Sunscreen: Always and multiple times per day! Especially hands, nose and ears since they are always exposed to the sun. We bought sunscreen with the highest sun protection factor we could find. After you have blisters on your ears for the first time, you won’t go without sunscreen anymore. Ouch!
- Warmshowers: This is a worldwide community for cyclists. Bikers offer bikers a place to stay, a warm meal and a warm shower. A great way to meet locals, share stories and save money.
- Plan zero-miles-days: Exploring the area we are in is for us part of the adventure. Allow yourself time to eat local food and actually see things off the bike route. Even a day doing nothing is important. Two-thirds of the way through, we took a day completely off: just hanging around, sleeping and doing nothing. We had to rest our minds and it was a good choice.
- Motivation: No matter how high the mountain is or heavy it’s raining – you can make it! And at the end of the day you’ll be so proud. Just keep on cycling!