Bicycle touring. It’s one of the best ways to experience new places while rising to new personal heights. To keep positive memories aloft, you’ll want to avoid these five downers. Although you can’t anticipate what lurks around the next bend, lessons learned by those who go before you can help minimize the effects of these frightening surprises.
1. Dogs. When you’re riding in the middle of the Washington desert, you’d really prefer them to be at the end of a leash. But when Debbie and I landed there in 2010, they were sprinting toward us at breakneck speed. Accompanying barks and growls sent chills down our spines. When you face three at once, that’s when a typical encounter becomes a fearful episode.
Lesson learned: If you’re going to carry pepper spray to ward off dogs, you might want to keep it close at hand. They won’t wait for you to retrieve it from deep within a pannier.
2. Threatening weather. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blacker sky than on day one of our Mom-to-Mom tour in 2012. Thunder, lightning, and driving sheets of rain burst forth in late afternoon in Punta Gorda, Florida. We had cut short our pit stop at Wendy’s to travel farther. Thankfully, more shelter was just down the road–and just in time.
Several days later, outside of Jacksonville, lightning chased us on miles of service-less roads. We had experienced this same feeling along Tornado Alley on our coast-to-coast tour. The more we glanced over our shoulders at the ominous sky, the darker–and closer–it became.
Lesson learned: You can’t always outrun threatening weather. And, sooner or later, a storm will catch up with you. Pay attention to dark clouds. They can come with much electricity. Torrential rain can blind not only you, but the motorists who would otherwise try to avoid hitting you. Don’t forget to check The Weather Channel or Internet weather forecasts each day.
3. Pilfery. Webster calls it petty theft, but if you lose some necessary gear while you’re out in the middle of nowhere on a long tour, you’ll hardly consider the loss petty. And if someone vandalizes your bicycle, that serious insult could spoil the remainder of your tour.
Lesson learned: If you need to leave your bicycle unattended, use good judgment about where, or in whose care you entrust it. You need it to get home. Carry valuables with you at all times, particularly money and credit cards. Consider a locking system.
4. Traffic. A close encounter with a high-speed tractor-trailer on I-84 in Oregon was a wake-up call. In the Midwest, we wandered off route and landed on a beat-up, shoulder-less road filled with trucks. Another self-selected route down the homestretch led us to agitated motorists in bumper-to-bumper traffic, convincing us that our tour was ending just in time.
Lesson learned: This one’s pretty hard to avoid, but it remains one of the highest threats to bicycle tourists. After all, you will be sharing the road with motorized vehicles. Route selection is important. Rely on the advice of others who know area roads better than you do, but query them from the standpoint of bicycle travel not car travel.
Avoid metropolitan areas and superhighways. To minimize our navigational challenges, we entrusted our safety to Adventure Cycling Association’s maps. When in doubt, defer to the pros.
5. Campground visitors. You won’t want uninvited guests in your campground, particularly the big fury ones with sharp teeth. If you’ll be frequenting wilderness campgrounds, you might keep some bear spray close at hand. Conventional wisdom says to suspend food and other scented items from a tree branch well removed from your campsite. You may need to polish up on your knot-tying before venturing out.
Lesson learned: For non-prolific campers like us, there’s plenty of lessons yet to learn!