This is an assortment of slightly humorous yet particularly important lessons learned about traveling and bicycle touring from my time in New Zealand. These are pretty non-technical and a more cycling specific list will come next for anyone who’s actually planning such an adventure!
Do not go to the grocery store hungry
Okay, this one is a general rule for life. You know how it goes, you go hungry and you leave with a 5 pound bag of pizza rolls and some ice cream. Well, it’s even worse on tour. The level of hunger that comes after a week of struggling over huge climbs smashes any of that precious willpower that otherwise stops you from buying chocolate pastries the size of your head.
If you screw up and buy too much at home you just stick the extra food in your cupboard and slowly slowly eat through it. If you do this on tour you get to figure out how to stuff a dozen apples, a pack of bananas, 4 boxes of granola bars (but they were on sale!), a full loaf of bread, a small jug of milk, assorted canned food and a bag of cookies into your panniers to ride the remaining distance to camp. I’m not proud to admit that I didn’t make up that example, I really did that once.
It actually got even worse, the bag of cookies being always in reach within my handlebar bag, was finished by lunch and my stomach was not pleased.
Do not check the weather
You can’t do anything about it. It will only make you unhappy to see that it’s going to pour in a couple hours. Plus those guys are wrong most of the time. Don’t worry, you’ll see the dark clouds coming if it’s going to happen.
So I recommend you wake up and if it’s nice out get on your bike and if the weather is awful get on your bike anyway. You have everything you need in your panniers anyway so if it’s cold you put on warm clothes and if it’s raining you put on rain gear. Try to not worry about it and just do your thing.
Actually I’ll admit if I would wake up and if it was raining I liked to hang out in my tent and read for a while hoping to catch a break. If it stopped for even a moment I’d rush to pack my bike up and get moving.
Wind is a jerk
When you’re stuck outside for the vast majority of every single day, the wind will find a way to really be a dick.
It will make it hard to put up and take down your tent. I mean it can be like pinning a kite to the ground some days.
It will make it hard to sleep at night. Do not ever take it for granted that there was no wind when pitching your tent in the open or you will have the side walls smacking against you in the middle of the night.
It will make it hard to pedal and terrifying to go down hills. I seriously had a day where I couldn’t even stand up with my bike and had to lay it down on the shoulder and sit there pouting (Day 10 – Wind) and a day where I had to hitch hike down a big hill because a wind gust shoved me into the guard rail (Day 59 – Meh) and I thought I might die.
It will take things from you. I lost the bag for my tent stakes and had to chase all kinds of other stuff when the wind blew it away.
It will, literally, find a way to get sand in your beer.
But some day you’re going to get rocketed for 50 miles at 25mph with no effort because, finally, the wind is at your back. It just feels like this day will never come.
If it can break you should be prepared for it to break
Bring replacement screws bolts, patch kits (for tires, tents and inflating mattresses). More importantly, bring duct tape, electrical tape and zip ties for the day you realize you forgot what you needed to fix the only thing that broke for your entire tour. If you bring a spare you probably won’t need it and if you don’t bring one you will.
You will be miserable sometimes
If you’re on a sufficiently long trip you’re going to have some bad days. You’re going to sit there on the side of the road or under a tiny shelter hiding from the weather or maybe just trying desperately to rest your legs and ask yourself “why the hell am I doing this?”. Sometimes I’d think I could be just as happy in a car but when I looked at my pictures on my phone it reminded me of where I was and how often that only happened because of the fact that I was traveling on a bicycle.
if when you have a rough series of days then maybe change something. Find someone new to ride with (or split from your partner for a bit) or just take some time off. I took a three day break at a hostel on the Coromandel Peninsula because I was miserable and spent the better part of that time staring at clouds, napping in the grass and fishing (Days 78-80 – Bad priorities, good results). I left it entirely rejuvenated and with maybe the most memorable experiences of my entire trip.
Remember that it’s not a race. You don’t have to be cycling every day or even every week if you’re really not feeling it. It’s a holiday, enjoy yourself.