James stopped 50 feet in front of me and pulled into a dirt lot. He let Abita out of the trailer; when I pull up, he says, “Wanna go for a swim?” We were beside Hebgen Lake and only had around 30 miles to ride into West Yellowstone. We walk down to the lake and I practice swimming as far as I can without panicking. Storm clouds began to roll in and it starts to drizzle, so we quickly get our things together and get back up to our bikes. As I am packing up my things, a loaded bicyclist passes with a wave. A few minutes later, two other cyclists ride up and stop in front of me.
“Where are you riding from and to?” I ask one of them, who I later find out is Jeremy.
“From France! Around the world,” he replies casually with an enthusiastic grin.
“From Astoria. Actually I met you guys at the ACA in Missoula,” the other rider, Eric, responds. I quickly recall that Eric was in the “Cyclist Lounge” at the Adventure Cycling office.
In the next few minutes, I find out that the first bicyclist who passed was Jeremy’s biking partner, Clement. Jeremy and Clement are two French men who left their jobs to bicycle around the world for about three years. This world tour is a first bicycle tour for both of them. Just before the trip, they learned how to take apart and put their bicycles back together, but prior to that, did not know anything about bicycle maintenance. At this point, they have bicycled across Europe, through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, and Canada. They only entered the US recently, and will bicycle to San Diego and then through Central and South America.
James, Eric, Jeremy, and I chat and bike together leisurely, downhill with a tailwind, to West Yellowstone. James then reveals his secret weapon for making friends: “I have a van.” We invite the French and Eric to explore Yellowstone with us in the van the next day. We soon found ourselves gathered around a campfire with beer.
When traveling by bicycle, this is how friendships are forged. Slowing down the bicycle, an enthusiastic smile, and eye contact. Allowing ones self to take a rest day in a van. Slowing down conversation so that language differences are entertainment, not barriers. After a day of driving in Yellowstone, I chose to ride with Jeremy and Clement to Jackson through Idaho rather than through infamous national parks.
Over the next few days, I quickly discover that The French do bicycle touring right. We begin the day with coffee. At around 1 pm, we eat lunch and then take an afternoon nap every day. After dinner, there is hot black tea with a sliver of ginger. With almost every meal, we each eat 3-4 knock-off Oreos. Between meals, they indulge in the simplest of treats: off-brand Werther’s toffees. They don’t ride as hard as they can for as long as they can. Instead, they bike 50-60 miles every day, which is reasonable. They are on a budget of 10 euros/day/person, which is approximately $13/day/person. This means that they rarely find themselves at campgrounds and buy their groceries in bulk. When they do buy groceries, one of them walks into the store while the other waits outside. The person who goes in always buys a surprise treat to share–it might be cinnamon rolls, juice, or candy. They take bike maintenance seriously on this world tour, and told me to “Take care of your stuff.” One wise technique they shared is to carry multiple chains and rotate them over the lifetime of your cassette, so that the wear on the cassette isn’t as extreme.
They also have “impossibly long eyelashes” and seductive accents.
At this point, I have spent almost two weeks either riding with, or hiking with, other people. My time for solitude has been cut short; my social interactions have increased in intensity. I’ve gotten used to a nightly beer and no longer go to sleep with sunset. Changes in routines can be great; experiencing a different way of bike touring gives me different perspective on how I can bike tour. But ultimately, I love biking alone. I’m about to fly to NJ for a week. I’ll spend lots of time socializing with my family and friends. I’ll get to see my boyfriend for the first time since Portland. When I come back to Jackson Hole and mount my bicycle again, though, I am excited to ride solo once again.