I can’t say I’m an ultra-light bike tourist. I carry a laptop and often have multiple books weighing my down at any given time. I definitely have everything I need and most things I want. There are, however, quite a few things that I’ve had to learn to live without while bike touring across North America.
1. Face Wash: I didn’t grow up using face wash. I only realized many people wash their faces with a gel sometime in college. Up until that point, I’m pretty sure I just washed my face the ol’ fashioned way–with water. I remember a few years ago, on a trip to India, I said to my mom, “Oh, man! I forgot face wash!” My mom replied, “Oh, silly. Why do you need that!” and I remembered that for around two decades, I didn’t even know what it was. On this bike trip, I did initially bring face wash in my little bag of hygiene items. I’ve found, though, that I just don’t need it. Instead, I use it as body wash and stick with the ol’ fashioned way for the face.
2. Conditioner: I’ve shaved my head twice on this bicycle driven adventure, and that seems to be the most efficient way to take care of my hair. Given that it has stayed pretty short, I haven’t worried about washing it often. When I do, I’ve only been using a tiny bit of shampoo and let the natural oils on my head do the rest of the work. (Translation: the sweat that cakes onto my skull after a day of biking.)
3. Regular internet access and cell phone service: Throughout the trip, this has been an issue. I have consistently not had phone service when on National Park Service or National Forest land. When I’m between mountains, it’s likely a little “x” will appear instead of 4G. Even when I do have cell phone service, I might be milking 23% on battery life for a day before I find an outlet and time to charge it. And despite my appearance of being tech-savvy, I barely know how to use my smartphone, so I’d really rather prefer to use internet on a computer. This preference is only met when I intentionally decide to find WiFi, usually at a McDonald’s or a coffee shop. I’ve gotten used to all of these barriers to “staying connected”, though, and find that I am more engaged in my daily life if I’m not constantly checking my phone or internet.
4. Sex: I don’t think this needs explaining. And I think my mom would prefer if I didn’t.
5. Towel: I usually go into bodies of water in the middle of the day, so I’ll dry in the sun. If I dive in at the end of the day, I’ll dry off with a bandana. When I’m taking a proper shower, I’m usually in the home of a friend or host, and request a towel. It’s not that hard guys–towels are totally overrated.
6. Mirror: On previous travels, I’ve gone weeks without seeing myself in the mirror. It’s a fun experiment. The first time I catch a glimpse of myself again, it’s interesting to see how my skin coloration has changed slightly, my hair has grown longer, my glasses are a little off from what I remembered. On this bike trip, I haven’t had a mirror with me. I frequent gas stations and grocery stores, though, and have ended up in numerous restrooms with mirrors. I am also traveling with a smart phone, so I haven’t truly lost track of what I look like. I do appreciate, though, the opportunity to give-no-shits about how I physically present myself to the world.
7. Variety in clothing: I’ve got four choices of tops, one dress, one hoodie. A pair of spandex. Bike shorts. I’ve really embraced my lack of variety in clothing and occasionally post a “selfie” with #OOTD (Outfit Of The Day) to celebrate how great I look no matter what I’m wearing. Because yes, I did just wear that same shirt for a week straight. What.
8. People Who Know Me: This one is the true essence of traveling alone. Without people I know around me, there is no one to remind me how I am supposed to behave. Instead of acting how others expect me to act, I do what I feel like doing at any given time. Instead of hearing the voices of other people’s desires or motivations, I have come to listen to the voice in my head. By taking myself out of an environment in which the expectations and routines of others effect, and prioritize, my daily existence, I am able to revel in my own daily existence. For thousands of miles at a time, there is no social comfort zone for me and I just have to genuinely interact with the world.
9. Television: Compared to most people in the US, I don’t actually watch much TV in my non-biking life. Compared to my biking life, though, I look back with regret on the endless episodes of Scrubs I devoured over the course of a year in DC, and the hours spent watching Orange Is The New Black. What was I doing with my life, I wonder. Why didn’t I go on a hike? Why didn’t I read a book? Why didn’t I have a conversation with someone in my neighborhood, move a little slower, not rush from one form of entertainment to another? I not only live without TV now, but thrive. I hope to maintain a TV-less life when I go back “home.”
10. Patients: So much of our lives are spent trying to find satisfaction, fulfillment, meaning. I have found all of those things through being a nurse. At this point, I haven’t worked, or had a hospitalized patient under my professional care, in over four months. My identity is closely tied to my ability to take care of others in a tangible way. For these months, I haven’t been able to do that. How do I find meaning when I’m moving? How do I go about adventuring across the US and Canada, knowing that my skills are needed? I’ve contemplated this a bit while bicycling, and part of the answer for me is the fact that bicycling refreshes me so that I can more fully engage with my patients when I am back at work. Bicycling, then, is a burn-out prevention measure.