There are a lot of initial reactions I get when I tell people I’m riding solo. People think that I should be afraid–very afraid–of other humans. People ask me if I get lonely and say, “Isn’t it better to share the experience with someone?” For me, fear and loneliness are not the primary emotions that stand out when I think about riding alone. As I’ve said before, I absolutely love riding alone. But there are definitely pros and cons that stand out when I’m bicycling alone for weeks at a time in places I’ve never been. (None of them is leaving my bike outside of a store with no one to watch it. Remember: disengage the brakes!)
Four Best Things About Bike Touring Solo
1. #IDOWHATIWANT: When I’m riding alone, I stop when I want, I go as far as I want, I camp where I want. I don’t have to worry about whether I camp too close to a railroad line or highway to sleep–I know I’m going to sleep great! I eat when I want, drink when I want, carry as much water as I feel like carrying. I can go where ever I want! I can swim in lakes as many times a day as I want without feeling like I’m holding anyone up. I can take as many pictures, trying for the perfect angle, as I want, because no one is waiting for me. And when I’m feeling energetic, I can just ride further for fun. Because, if you didn’t know it, I really like riding my bike.
2. Processing Experiences and Moods: When riding with someone, I cannot fully enter the mental space where I can sift through the day, week, or month and evaluate experiences. I have found that I need long, drawn out periods of time alone for this. By processing by biking, I have not only begun to understand the journey that I’m on, but have also become acutely aware of my moods and what affects my moods. Usually, it relates to hunger, sunshine, and caffeine, and because I am so in tune with how my mind works now, I am able to pinpoint what’s going on.
3. Three Days, Two Weeks: Every emotion is more extreme when biking with someone else, especially the negative ones. I complain more. The hills seem steeper, the wind seems stronger, the rain seems colder. When alone, all I can do is acknowledge that the external conditions are temporary and that I need to get through it and keep on going. I can’t dwell, I just do, and because of this, the hard things don’t seem so hard. Everything is manageable. I remember the hard things for less time, too. When I’ve had frustrating social interactions, they seem less frustrating after around three days. In times when I’ve wasted money for reasons out of my control, I generally forget my monetary losses after 2 weeks. If I do remember these “bad” things, I just don’t care as much.
4. Browsing Maps: On a journey without a deadline, I’ve had limitless time to look at maps and just pick where I want to go. That big green area? Sure, why not! Oh, there’s a national park on the way? Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I go there! This is one of my favorite things about bike touring alone–my only timeline is the fluctuation in my mood.
Four Worst Things About Bike Touring Solo
1. Routing: I hate routing more than anything else. It is one of the few things that I consider to be “work” while bike touring. First of all, routing consists of figuring out where you want to go. For example, one of the routing decisions I had to make was whether to go to Seattle or whether to skip it and go east from Mount Vernon. This is my trip, I get to decide, right? It being my decision means there is no right answer. Sometimes, I feel like being in a city and sometimes I feel like being in the desert, disconnected from humanity. To make these decisions, I initially try to be rational, thinking, “When am I going to be on the West Coast again? It’s so expensive to fly out here, I might as well see Seattle while I can.” Ultimately, I made the decision by looking at myself in the mirror and making faces. The thought of entering another big city crossed my mind, and the mirror showed my own disgust at the prospect of tall buildings and traffic. So I skipped it.
The second, and more grueling, aspect of routing is actually determining which roads I will take. I try to avoid interstates. Often, state maps will show the small county roads with lighter colored gray lines and these roads will be labeled. In these cases, my work is pretty straightforward: follow the map! In some states, though, the lighter colored gray lines are not labeled, and this is when frustration ensues. I then turn to Google Maps biking directions. I lost my faith in Google Maps a long time ago, though, because when they say the directions are in ‘beta’ phase, they are serious. I have been led to privately owned, gravel roads. I have been led to bike paths that do not exist, or that have baseball sized gravel covering them. I have been led down roads that simply do not exist. To deal with this, then, I meticulously go through each turn listed in the directions and ensure there is a street-view for that section. If there is no street view for a road, I assume it is gravel and re-route. If it is a bike path, I research the bike path and find out from their website directly whether it is paved.
2. Slow It Down: I definitely do more mileage when riding alone. I go farther, but is the point to cover mileage? When I’m riding with someone else, taking long breaks and stopping a lot becomes more natural. When most recently riding with Laura, slowing down meant that we got to watch some unique natural phenomena, like dozens of bats flying directly above our heads as we pitched our tent.
3. The Social Stuff: Interacting with other humans is something else that I often consider to be work. When with someone else, one person can tell the curious stranger where we’re riding and why, and the other person can check directions, take a nap, or buy groceries.
4. Short-Term Memory Problems: I have bicycled thousands of miles alone and I have no idea what I will remember and what I will forget. I have over 7,000 photos, but this doesn’t cover a tenth of the landscape I have witnessed from my bicycle. My biggest fears relate to what I might forget…like brilliant colors, or how being within view of an enormous mountain range makes me feel.