Bicycle touring is a lot of fun. It involves packing a bunch of gear on a bike and heading out somewhere far away. Touring gives one a sense of freedom and independence. You are not tied down to some crazy fuel or heavy machinery, all that is required is maintaining a small simple machine and making sure you eat enough food because you happen to be the motor that makes this particular contraption go.

Some people who tour stay in hotels. Some people pay to camp in commercial and government campgrounds. I think that finding a free place to sleep is part of the adventure.

Here are a few tips on finding a free place to sleep. Find something a little out of the way. Don't go too far out of your way, finding a free place to stay really is not that hard even along main roads. It would be better not to be seen or to be somewhere that it doesn't matter if you are seen. Natural (or man made) shelters are real helpful because then you don't have to pitch a tent. Examples are: a rock outcropping, a felled tree, and under a bridge. Usually you'll find yourself stopping in a patch of woods. Some folks get nervous about this, but in the very rare situation that you get caught the worst that may happen is that someone asks you to leave. Do so quickly and politely, there will always be another place down the road. It never hurts to ask the person evicting you for camping suggestions (unless they are really angry) and if its dark chances are you'll get permission to sleep for the night right there. To stay on the safe side, camp where there isn't an obvious sign of land ownership (like a sign). Churches, graveyards, playgrounds, are all good places just stay out of sight and make sure it isnt a school day or a Sunday tomorrow. If you are really in a pickle (like in the middle of Illinois with not a tree in sight), just ask someone at a gas station for recommendations, you never know they might even let you sleep in their front lawn. As a general rule of thumb: people are extremely kind to you when you are travelling by way of bicycle.

You don't need to plan out your route in advance, other than the general direction that is. You can make a plan, some people really like plans, but I'm not one of them. As you enter a new state look for tourism centers these have free state maps available. Usually you will find something along the way that catches your eye which helps one stray from even the best planned routes.

It helps to be able to read a map and each evening plan the next day's journey. Trace out a route that uses the more minor roads. Avoid the interstates, most states forbid you from using them. Maps can give you a sense of the terrain based on road design. Long linear roads are in flatter regions, windy roads are in hillier areas, and long narrow patches of roadless and townless areas with very few and windy roads crossing them are signs of a mountain range. Roads along rivers and railroad tracks are typically flat.

The distance a bicyclist can cover is pretty decent. 60 miles a day is a typical day of cycling, 80 for young people and those in good shape. This means you can cover 400 - 600 miles in a week easily, maybe even a little more. This makes the bicycle useful for intercity travel. You can visit a neighboring town within a day or two of traveling. New York to Philadelphia in a day has been done by a lot of people, for example.

Doing all this biking will make you really hungry. Food is what makes you go, so be sure to eat enough and you can never eat too much. You already know that you'll need a lot of carbs, but some people forget that what you really need is a lot of fat. The reason is that you'll be using energy so fast that you'll burn through those carbs and head straight for your fat reserves which you will have to continually replenish. You're also going to be drinking a lot of water so you'll need vitamins. Pasta, rice, potatoes, these are good sources of carbs avoid bread (bagels, buns, and loaves) because you'll burn through bread like fire through straw. Meat, cheese, nuts, doughnuts, peanut butter, fried food are good sources of fats. All fruits and vegetables are great for vitamins and carbs, certian ones even contain fats. You can't go wrong with vegetables so eat up on them. I usually eat too many doughnuts on a long trip, aside from rotting my teeth they are the ideal food: high in fat, lots of carbs and a little sugar for a boost.

A great (FREE!) source of food is dumpster diving see: Dumpster Diving Food 101 for detailed information. It is possible to feed yourself exclusively on dumpster diving (at least east of the Mississippi with its higher population density). Such a diet is rich in doughnuts, pizza, cake, french fries and all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Personally, I subsidize this diet with purchases of: orange juice (vitamin C) and garlic (I love this stuff and raw garlic boasts the immune system).
  • Fishing and eating roadkill (you'll see a lot of this!) are other options to keep in mind.
  • There are plenty of wild edibles too, so don't be shy about eating dandelions, wild cherries, wild grapes, mulberries and all the rest. You won't be able to subsist entirely on what you can forage, but it adds some fun and vitamins to your diet.
  • Water
    You know your drinking enough water if your pee is clear and you're stopping to pee every hour or so. I like to keep an old two liter soda bottle on me that I keep filled with water as well as a smaller bottle on my bottle cage attached to the bike frame. You can get water at any public bathroom, do not be embarrassed to walk right in to there and grab some water. America is cursed with a tremendous amount of suburban sprawl which happens to make both getting water and dumpster diving very easy -might as well use it. Some examples of free water stations: gas stations, bars, fast food resturants, and grocery stores; I should add that the folks at a super fancy resturant might get a little rude if you try to use their bathroom so avoid these. Obviously, the two liter bottle doesn't fit into most sinks so this is why I have the smaller bottle with me.

    Another tip: you can get a pack or two of matches for free from most gas stations, bars, and convience stores. Handy for stoves and campfires.

    Some more
    Touring is a lot like hiking. In both you have to camp and take care of yourself entirely. Except in touring you do not confine the wilderness to some mountain peak or national park. The wilderness is all around us, part of touring is to rediscover the wild animal inside of you. A squirrel for example forages for food in the middle of a city just like he does in the woods. Life is the same, the scenery just looks different. There is not a specific location only within which we are allowed to be free and wild again, this is what the entire world is for. The lie of civilization tries to trick us into thinking that the wilderness and the way of life that comes with it does not belong in our daily lives. But it must.

    Here is a basic list of what to bring, use your imagination:

  • a road bike with mounts for fenders and at least a rear rack
  • panniers, can be made out of messenger style bags from Goodwill clipped to your rack. Another option is to attach a hiking backpack to your rear rack with bungy chords* (personally I use both!)
  • a climate appropriate sleeping bag (or blanket)
  • bed pad
  • tarp & rope (lighter than a tent)
  • appropriate bike tools and spare parts for your machine. It would be a good idea to learn the basics of bike maintence BEFORE you leave.
  • a pot with lid (which can double as a plate!)
  • 2 liters of water
  • alcohol stove & fuel
  • a good knife with a large blade and a swiss army knife
  • a cup and a spoon
  • matches and lighter and dryer lint (firestarter)
  • poncho
  • a towl
  • at least one change of clothes
  • a jacket and hat for those cold spring mornings
  • first aid kit and list of medicinal herbs
  • sewing kit
  • maps
  • flashlight and candles
  • bike lock
  • bike light and spare batteries
  • extra rope (it always comes in handy for something..)
  • lots of plastic bags (these are incredibly useful!)
  • your favorite spices and some olive oil or butter
  • tea or coffee, I use honey as a sweetener
  • food

    and if you want to:
  • fishing equipment
  • a good book and journal
  • pencil sharpener
  • playing cards or portable chess set
  • a musical instrument

    *a note on bungy chords, you WILL find about 1000 of these on the side of the road.

    updated: 21 January, 2006

  • Eating logistics for bike touring

    I wrote this article for my blog but decided I'd try posting it here first to see if you all wonderful folks had any suggestions, comments or criticisms!

    No matter your riding style, cycling burns a ton of calories, so it's important to replenish them frequently and effectively. And while it may seem easy to just simply eat more than you normally would after a day out pedaling, it becomes a bit more complex when you embark on an extended tour.

    Your eating style will largely be dictated by the type of touring you decide on, so here are a couple of factors to consider:

    How much money is in your budget?
    The first thing you'll need to decide is whether you want to cook some (or most) of your own meals or just eat out at restaurants and gas stations along the way. This decision generally comes down to how much money you're willing to spend- eating out can be expensive, especially if you're going with actual restaurants instead of cheap fast food. If you're a credit card tourer than you've likely factored eating out into your expenses already, but if you're on a budget then cooking your own grub is definitely the way to go.

    How much room do you have?
    While the minimalist/hardcore/racer tourist types tend to just eat whatever they can get from the nearest gas station, if you've got the space on the bike's panniers or trailer you can go gourmet and bring along a stove, cookset and spices. Generally I tend to try and keep an entire pannier available for my cookset, fuel, food and water, which is generally enough to last me a few days.

    How much time do you have?
    Timing when to eat can be a bit tricky on a longer bike tour, and I've found that it helps to have a whole lot of snacks on hand to tide me over until the next time I can sit down and devote to an entire meal. Generally I tend to cook my breakfasts and dinners, and eat pre-made stuff (like sandwiches) for lunch. Ideally you can find yourself a grocery store right before finding a place to camp for the night, which allows you to pick up perishable foods that can be cooked up right away.

    What kind of stores are along the way?
    When choosing your route, you should look for the kinds of towns you'll encounter- these will factor in to your options as far as ingredients go. Larger cities tend to have more grocery stores with larger selections, smaller ones might only have a gas station or two to work with. Either way, if you're rolling through a larger town and know you won't be encountering another one for a while then it's generally helpful to stock up on a few days worth of food beforehand.

    These are just a few of the things you should consider when it come to eating along a longer bike tour, in future articles I'll go into further depth on how to go about meal planning, buying and cooking. So stay tuned!

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