Updating My Salsa Fargo Build, Bikepacking Style

Oh, the places you can go on a bicycle… Somewhere in Portugal!

I’ve ridden my Salsa Fargo 10,000 miles over hundreds of hours across the U.S. and Europe. I STILL love it. To make it even better for our April/May bike tour in Spain and Portugal, I added a few hacks from the bikepacking world.

Since over 3,000 people per month still read my post about the Salso Fargo, I figured a quick update will help some folks out. In that initial post, I talked about how comfortable the Salsa Fargo is. That hasn’t changed! The Fargo isn’t racy, but hot diggity is it a solid long-distance bike for gravel and pavement. I’d still buy a Fargo versus a Salsa Vaya for the versatility and riding position.

During our tour from Valencia, Spain to Porto, Portugal, we logged many miles on gravel and dirt roads. Other than a couple days where bigger tires or front suspension might have saved some wrist damage, the bike worked great!

Salsa Fargo ready to rip!

Things I Still Like About the Salsa Fargo:

  • Position on the bike – so comfortable for all-day pedaling
  • Mountain gearing (2×10, 24/42, 11-36) – I can charge (ok, grunt) up 16% grade farm roads.
  • Tons of braise-ons for racks, fenders, and water bottles
  • Steel is real! No worries about carbon breaking under a loaded bike.
  • Wide variety of tire sizes – Newer models accommodate even bigger tires and feature the Firestarter fork, which people rave about.
All the necessities: water and a smoothie from a grocery store. (Other water bottle moved temporarily to my handlebar snack bag.)

Recent Upgrades I’m Digging

Jones Bars with a view of the Atlantic.

New Handle Bars (Jones H-Loop Bars)
Call me a trend follower, but Jones Bars are HAWT in the bikepacking world. I hemmed and hawed and finally ordered some. So glad I did.

It took a little work in my garage and cost ($150) for new brakes, mtb shifters, and recabling. Whatever – I’m SO happy with the change. So nice when stuff works out. Now my Salsa Fargo looks like a REAL bikepacking bike!

I loved them so much that I bought a pair for Chelsea’s new Co-Motion Pangea too! (For both pairs, I bought the SG Loop bars vs lighter aluminum or carbon bars.)

One downside to wide bars… Oh well, just four flights of these stairs to navigate. See you next time sans bike, Lisbon!

Three Major Things I Like About Jones Bars:

Comfortable body position
Frequent mountain biking has heavily biased me against drop bars. Even relative to the Fargo’s relaxed Woodchipper bars, the Jones Bars are more comfortable and upright.

It’s not like a beach cruiser waddling along a boardwalk either. I can still put down power. The bars are swept back at 45 degrees and I mounted them at the recommended 17 degree tilt. The end result puts less pressure on my hands and feels natural.

MTB shifters and brakes
On bumpy terrain (or in general), I prefer my hands wrapped solidly around handlebars, not resting on STI/brifter hoods. I’m loving the trigger shifters coupled with my SRAM 2×10 setup: fast, easy to adjust, and cheap. Brifter is a dumb word anyway.

The Salsa wishing it were a real mountain bike.

More mounting space for gear
The bar design creates space for lights, GPS, a bell, a framed picture of my mom, and a diorama of my favorite Oregon wildlife. (Kidding. I don’t have pictures on my bike. Sorry, mom.)

New Saddle (Brooks Cambium)
For past tours, I used a Selle Anatomica. It worked fine, but I never looooved it. However, for commuting around Bend sans chamois, the slot in the saddle was uncomfortable (no further details).

To address that, I bought a Brooks Cambium saddle. Not only is it comfortable, it’s synthetic, i.e. no need to worry about rain and it aligns with my vegan values. BOOM.

Bikepacking Bags

Cheap real estate in rural Spain…

I added the following to my setup:

Frame Bag (Salsa EXP HT)
Designed for the Fargo’s geometry and perfect for infrequently used gear (spare tubes, bike repair kit, med kit, front light, and rain gear). As a bonus, I don’t have to haul it around when I take my panniers off the bike. A must have in my opinion!

Note: Since the frame bag covers the bottle mounts, I moved those to the front fork. I considered using the Salsa Anything Cages, but didn’t need the capacity for this trip.

Another random ride in an elevator with a bike…

Handlebar bag (Surly Personal Affects)
Instead of the cavernous Ortlieb I’ve used before, I picked up this sweet number. It mounts neatly in the loop of the Jones Bars and holds a small camera, snacks and other assorted stuff. The elastic webbing on top is perfect for holding a light jacket in on/off weather.

Note: Jones makes a bag specific for the bars. It screams JONES in bright white lettering, costs 1.5x more, and lacks the jacket-holding webbing, so I opted for the Surly bag.

Back roads and byways on the Fargo. Bikepacking bags are so less rattly than my old Ortlieb handlebar bag!

Bedrock Feed Bags (the Tapeats)
Mounted on either side of the stem and perfect for for carrying quick-access snacks, a small charger pack for my phone, a bottle of OJ or coconut water, or stashing any small item of gear.

Top-Tube Bag (Dakota Tank)
Perfect for frequently accessed stuff like sunscreen, chamois butter, wallet, and so on. Easy access! Plus it’s named the Dakota Tank, so, yeah, had to have it.

Rear view fully loaded. The Dakota Tank is the red/black bag on the top tube.

Panniers (Ortlieb Backrollers)
Faded and dirty, these babies were with us for both big tours we’ve done. For the U.S., I had two rear and two smaller front panniers; for Europe in 2015, I only had the two rear. Panniers are great, but on bumpy dirt roads, they flap around like pissed off seagulls.

Setting up my Fargo bikepacking-style makes sense and I considered using just a seatpost bag. Buuuut I work remotely on these trips and need a bag big enough for a laptop and so I rocked panniers again, though not as loaded down. As a plus, I can fit a solid chunk of Chelsea’s gear to even out our pace a bit when we’re riding. I can still take her on the hills 🙂

Sometimes we let the bikes sleep inside, but not here.

Small duffel bag (16L Matador duffel)
We love this hack. Rather than loading up panniers with food, which creates an unbalanced load (and probably scoliosis), we put food in a duffel bag on top of the rear rack. When we hit a lunch spot or grocery store for a refill, we grab the duffel and presto, we’ve got all our food. The Matador is light and waterproof, but not super durable.

Bigger Tires (50mm Schwalbe Marathons)
I’ve run a variety of tire sizes on the Fargo. I considered going with some 2.2” mtb tires, but decided on on 50mm (2”) Schwalbe Marathons (with tubes). Yeah yeah, they’re heavy, but changing flats sucks and we aren’t throwing down intervals on loaded bikes! Rotational inertia just makes you stronger, ya weight weenie. ZERO flats during this last trip and we rode some rough terrain. Booyah.

Portugal, you wily creature. Gonna need bigger tires for this terrain!

iPhone Mount on Bike (Quadlock Kit)
I’ve mastered the dangerous art of looking at phone maps while riding my bike. It’s easy on quiet roads and rather stupid in cities. As a (small) sign that I’m maturing, I bought a Quadlock case for my iPhone plus a mounting bracket for my bike stem.

The phone mounts in both portrait and landscape mode and the release sleeve on the bracket is bomber and ingenious. The matching case is slim, so I can leave it on the phone long-term. SO easy to navigate using Komoot with both hands on the bars. Highly recommended/mandatory!

View from the driver’s seat. Top to bottom: Surly bag in the bar loop (perfect for camera), two Bedrock bags for snacks, my phone with Quadlock case, and the Bedrock “Dakota Tank” bag at the bottom.

There you have it. I think this iteration of my gravel/road touring setup is more comfortable for long days, robust on rough roads, better balanced, and provides a safer, easily accessed front cockpit relative to my past approach. I loved it for this recent tour!

Want to read about our trip? Here’s the first ten days from Valencia to Granada and then tales from Granada to Porto.

Always give your bike a nice view on the ferry.
One more shot… Side view fully loaded.

Hitting Our Bike Touring Stride in Spain and Portugal (Plus a Major Trip Pivot)

The Via Verde de la Sierra is simply fantastic.

So, you might ask, how is the Spain and Portugal bike tour going?

After pushing hard our first 10 days, it was raining and we were ready for rest in Granada. A concerned friend texted to ask Chelsea if she was having fun. Wait, people bike tour for fun…?

One of those times where all you can do is laugh! I Facetimed a friend who is going on his first tour soon to share the fun.

After the obligatory breaking-in period for bodies (and psyches), we hit a flow after Granada. Memorable, beautiful days of biking rail trails, picture-perfect towns, and scenic Portuguese coastline were the reward for our pedaling.

Yes, it’s fun sometimes! AND…bike touring is also never easy. That’s half the point. Find your edge, push through tough situations, and see what’s on the other side. A pilgrimage, not a beach vacation.

Certainly not for everybody, but there’s magic in in the pace and daily exhaustion of traversing the Earth’s surface on a bicycle. Hard pedaling, rain, wind, hike-a-bike, and the daily adventure amplify the good parts.

Why do the steepest roads always look so FLAT in the pictures?! Somewhere outside Ronda working our butts off.

Ups (and Downs) from the Past Two Weeks!

We cranked hard from Granada up to the hilltop town of Ronda and its magnificent sunsets. Dude, Spain: you are HILLY. Then out of the mountains to Seville to head west across southern Portugal to Lagos, hugging the coast to Porto in the north.

East to west: Valencia to Porto!

Pace-wise, we’ve pedaled less than past tours but on more intense terrain. It’s easy to burn daylight by sticking to slower back roads, paths, and all manner of routes versus charging it on pavement like we did in the U.S. My average speed was 20% slower on this tour because of the terrain.

With biking, exploring on rest days, hanging with Chelsea, working, and daily logistics for lodging, food and route selection, I haven’t prioritized writing. However, I’ve cobbled together a few Instagram posts. These highlights from the last few weeks are adapted from those posts, plus additional color I didn’t add to the Grams.

Sailing along on the coast of Portugal, the big wave town of Nazare in the background.
Sometimes bike touring isn’t all that straight forward…

There’s Always Time to Help Out

This 50 mile bike adventure is brought to you by the letters K, I, and H.

K for the kitten my amazing wife heard meowing loudly at lunch. She knocked on doors to see if anyone had seen the mom, tried her best to speak Spanish to an older gentleman, and then bought food to feed the hungry little one. It’s heartbreaking seeing constant need during our travels and small efforts like this are a drop in the pan, but it’s better than nothing. What if everyone did a little something?

No kitten photos, but we have butterflies! This little guy sucked down about 12 droplets of water that Chelsea gave him.

I is for ice cream. Specifically Ben and Jerry’s. We ran out of energy (aka bonked) and devoured a pint of their vegan Chunky Monkey like wild-eyed hyenas . Food, shelter, food: needs are simple on a bike tour.

H is for hike-a-bike during our last 5 miles, sunset on the horizon. We ditched a busy highway for a gravel road that degraded into doubletrack, then soft, unrideable terrain through olive groves. What could have sucked instead created a magic evening.

Birds were chirping, flowers were firing, and we still had a chocolate bar to eat. A fantastic finish with mountain views as wheat fields rippled in the breeze. The off-kilter stuff ALWAYS creates the most memorable moments

As good as it gets!

Contrast

The next day, we woke to the smell of shit in the ag town of Campillos.

It’s a day of contrast and perspective building. ​The stink in the air is from dozens of pig factory farms and their waste holding ponds. We’re an hour’s drive from Ronda, a popular destination, but nobody leaves the highway to see where their jamón comes from.

No cars on these roads! Hard work, but worth it for the quiet.

We climbed (climbclimbclimb) into the mountains surrounding Ronda, laboring up STEEP farm roads. A wizened old man in a donkey-drawn cart eyed us like we fell from a UFO. Our reward: solitude and sweeping views, plus OH WHAT how good does chocolate taste when you’ve worked that hard?

A low moment hits and I consider kicking my bike down the steep embankment to whoop as it crumples into a heap. (As always, food fixes everything and my hangry alter-ego NARG retreated back to his cave.) Simply drinking water in an olive tree’s shade is a sweet moment.

Contrast: we absolutely will better appreciate all the comforts of home when we’re back home. Mmm, drinking fizzy lemon water in our shady yard in Bend. Even van travel feels luxurious compared to bike touring.

Only one way to go in Spain – UP!

The Perfect Day of Touring

On the pedal from Ronda out of the Sierra Mountains, we find the perfect mix of hard work (3,000 feet of climbing), cool “pueblos blancos” (one built into a cliff, the other with a castle on top), and light traffic. I even felt (dreamed?) a tailwind for awhile.

The highlight: finishing the day with 15 miles on our favorite rail-to-trail yet, the Via Verde de la Sierra. Long tunnels, expansive views and a smooth surface. As good as it gets.

These aren’t the days you tell stories about so your friends can laugh at your misfortune. These are to enjoy and relish. The whirring of the bike freewheel through a tunnel while coasting downhill is a happy tune indeed.

The light at the end…

All the Rest Days

Hanging out on Ronda’s city wall at sunset.

Rest days! Not the top reason to bike tour, but certainly top 10.

With no agenda for this trip in Spain, we’ve enjoyed great time off the bikes. A week at the start to explore Barcelona and Valencia for our anniversary. Trail running and hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Exploring Granada and group dinners with friends.

Alhambra in Granada and a fine time hanging out with our friends Hilary and Don. (They’re on a midlife gap year exploring the world cuz they’re COOL!)
Getting up high on a hike outside Granada.

In Ronda, we watched sunsets from the hilltop city’s spectacular location. Most tourists day trip to the city and it’s crazy midday. At night, we wandered the charming, winding streets like tourist vampires, drinking in the silent, winding streets and views.

Lagos. A beautiful location in SW Portugal with excellent vegan food. Suddenly, all the menus are in English – it’s a popular sun break for northern Europeans. As with most “rest” days, we explore and hike over 10 miles. Spectacular coastline views and a festival celebrating the discovery of Madeira (the island, not wine) are our reward.

The coastline near Lagos whaaat!

Lisbon! We skip the final miles into the city via train but still enjoy a gnarly 4 miles riding to our Airbnb. Steep cobblestones, train tracks, delivery trucks, honking cars, tuktuks, tourists, and general city chaos, oh my. I’ve seen worse, but can’t recall where! Where’s the bike lanes, Lisbon?!

Our reward: a cool city, the world’s oldest operating bookstore (1732!), and the best meals we’ve had on this trip. The Food Temple, AO-26 and Daterra delivered the goods. Word of advice to Daterra: don’t let bottomless-appetite bike tourers get access to your amazing buffet again. I only ate seven plates of food…

All the food is the reason I go for runs on “rest days.” Techy trail running outside Granada!

Into the Cork Forests

Cork trees and Chelsea!

A day on backroads and byways in SW Portugal. Chelsea wanted to see cork forests and we found them!

As usual, it required some hike-a-bike to find the goods, but suddenly we’re high above the valley amid cork trees.

The cork is harvested roughly every ten years and the shiny trunk is numbered to keep track of the year.

We hit Portugal’s Eurovelo 1 out of Lagos and pedal north on a bumpy dirt track, tough without front-suspension. This will repeat up much of the Portuguese coast. Fair warning to anyone considering riding EV1: even on 50mm tires, we got hammered.

We pass an Italian couple that are touring with their one year old baby; I love seeing people continuing to adventure with kids. Soon after, a punchy climb takes us to the top of a castle overlooking the red-roofed town below. I’d never live in a drafty stone building (think how much it costs to heat!), but I sure love the views.

On this day, we wrapped things up with a sunset beach picnic in Odeceixe. This is one of the nicest beaches I’ve seen and reminds me of Cascade Head on the Oregon coast. We humans love to anchor experiences relative to things we know, after all.

Noooot a bad spot for lunch.
Odeceixe Beach in SW Portugal is a must-visit for anyone coming through this region!

Equanimity in the Dunes

​Vacations: beaches, sleeping in, pretty views, lunch in secluded coves, maybe a little exercise…
.
That’s how we STARTED this day. Then the Eurovelo delivered a curveball of 1.5 hours pushing our loaded bikes through deep sand. Luckily, I handled it with aplomb, swearing like an enraged fool as I wrestled my way up sand dunes.

Not the easiest riding. (Or pushing.)
Ohhh you sneaky, sandy Eurovelo 1…

My wife, Master of Equanimity, pushed through silently, more concerned for the shallow-rooted plants than the hard work. How does she do it?! I’d have happily burnt two tons of sensitive flora to leave that sandy hellhole.

Chelsea’s only stress: a cliff-edge traverse carrying our bikes and gear while hikers eyed us like we’d escaped the loony bin. “Hey mommy, why is that red-faced man sweating so much?” SHUT UP, YOU LITTLE BRAT. Kids these days.

I mean, who wants to ride a bike when you can carry along a cliff?

We finished this fun lil’ afternoon diversion up 200 rickety steps. Thanks to the hiker who carried two of our bags; we must have looked half-dead and in need of assistance.

From there, we rolled into a pretty town and enjoyed an ocean view, fresh-pressed OJ and C’s fav, coffee. Back on track just like that.

Ahh, vacations are so relaxing.

Power up! Fresh-squeezed OJ and coffee

Snapshot of the Eurovelo 1 up the Portuguese Coast

Two cyclists going opposite directions stop to chat. “Man, this headwind is killer today huh?” “Same for ME. I’ve been fighting it all day.”

All to say: prevailing winds exist, but you just neeeever know. For most of our days pedaling north in Portugal, we got lucky and had crosswinds or a tailwind! I chortled every time I see another cyclist heading south “with the wind,” but got what I deserved: instant karma served piping hot in the form of shrieking headwinds for the two days into Porto.

Old gun turrets overlooking the Portuguese coast. Not pictured but there: howling headwinds.

Keeping It Classy

To escape Lisbon’s chaos, we caught an early train. Cue bike wrestling on stairs and escalators. Tourist next to me at the ticket machines: “how do I get to…” Me: “I have SIX minutes til my train leaves and THIS MACHINE WON’T TAKE MY FIVE EUROS. RWARRRGH.” Made it with all of 2.5 mins to spare.

Graffiti covers many Portuguese trains and the bike storage area is nooot exactly easily accessible. They’re cheap and operate on time though!

The biking: a ridge climb on dirt to sweeping valley and ocean views. Into Nazaré, home to the largest-ever surfed wave, for a reminder that tourist towns suuuuck. Hotel touts yelling at us: “quartos!” Nope, we don’t need a room, obrigado (thanks). I’m no mathematician, but the correlation between the number of tour buses and how much I hate a town is strong.

The climb out is a punishing 16%, but then we hit the Atlantic Ciclopista for the rest of the day, a paved cyclepath next to the highway. It dips into cool beach towns where we guzzle cold, syrupy, delicious Lipton tea and snack sitting on ocean-side benches.

We roll into a fancy remodeled hotel coated in sunscreen, crushed fruit dripping from a bag onto on the floor. We’re sun and wind burnt and other patrons eye us like we might rob the place. “Hi, we’d like to destroy one of your nice ocean view rooms please.”

Keeping it classy.

Drought and global warming are everywhere. Fires burnt a ton of Portugal’s forests in recent years. That road surface? Rough!
Smooth sailing on the ciclopista for a bit!

A Major Trip Pivot

And THAT, my friends, is where this bike tour ends. Three weeks before our planned finish, we waved goodbye to our bicycles from Porto and shipped them to Barcelona. Why?

Portugal’s beautiful coastline was a treat to bike tour and was our favorite part of our trip. However, during the last week of pedaling to Porto, Chelsea’s hands took a beating from the rough dirt and gravel terrain. (Picture miles on chopped up road that rattles your spine and nerves.) Pain that sidelined her after our 2015 European tour is back.

And soooo PIVOT. Six weeks in, we called it to avoid worse damage to C’s hands. (She’ll be fine, don’t worry.) An adventure concludes and a fun vacation begins! Initially I was bummed, but letting go vs cranking onward is the correct path.

One last hike-a-bike through Porto to drop the bikes off for shipping.

In an afternoon of frenetic computerating in Porto, we lined up a completely different angle for the remaining three weeks of our trip. I’m writing this with a view of the ocean from Madeira, a tiny adventure-packed island off the coast of Morocco. Rental cars and flights to other islands are booked. Vacation 2.0 is underway!

But THAT…is for another blog post.

That’s all for this bike tour, folks!

First Impressions: 10 Days Bike Touring in Spain

If travel is a physics experiment, bike touring is a particle accelerator. Pedal off into the world and careen about, smacking into culture, language, food, physical hardship, boredom, satisfaction, splendid scenery laced with agricultural land, and all the emotions accompanying such a journey.

For better or worse, touring exposes you to greater ups and downs than motorized travel. I love it for that, and also sometimes yell four letter words at a headwind when I’m hangry. (Wind, the OG honey badger, doesn’t give a fuck.) Hills blazed in ten minutes in a car are an hour, two hours on a loaded touring bike; a passing rainstorm watched from a train is a scramble for gear and a sloshy moment for us.

Yet we choose to do this and it’s a privilege to have that choice. Some of you get it, and some think we’re nuts. You’re all correct.

A mildly rocky start, but not as bad as farming in Spain. This is what they all look like!

The First Ten Days

I’m channeling my inner European and writing this from a cafe in Granada, snacking on pan con tomate and sipping mint tea, cigarette smoke from a nearby old man swirling in the air. This means a) I’m basically a native Spaniard and b) we survived the first leg of our trip.

We’ve got 340 miles behind us, 40+ hours of pedaling to get from Valencia to Granada to meet our friends Jen and Dave. Ten days (with one rest day) to yell WAKE UP at our bodies.

Damn. You. Headwinds.

The first days of a bike tour are hard. Physically difficult to adjust to pedaling 5+ hours per day. It’s not just tired legs; my upper body is sore too. Emotionally tough as minds sync up to a new pace, a deliberate process of waking up, eating, and pedaling most of the day.

There’s little time for activities other than biking, logistics (food, lodging, route planning) and “oh damn, I’m too tired to do anything but stare at my phone.” I’m barely able to stay on top of work, but decided to document the trip on Instagram and Strava after six months off social media as creativity catalyst.

I’ll say this: Chelsea is tough as nails. After three years of no biking due to hand pain after our 2015 tour, she launched into this trip like a champ. Straight into the hills of Spain, which do NOT mess around. Our achy legs attest to that. Past tours kicked off with similar mileage, but half the vertical gain. Adjusting indeed.

Chelsea “The Hammer” toward the end of a long, hot, so-many-hills kinda day.

Snapshots and Impressions of Touring in Spain

Rather than a recounting of each day, here’s a taste of the montaña rusa (rollercoaster) that is our experience of bike touring in Spain. Yes, it’s hard, but there’s a glimmer of light down the tunnel of leg pain. We KNOW we’ll get stronger if we just.keep.pedaling.

That was the first 10 days: moments of glory and plenty of “damn, this is hard.” Please don’t feel bad for us; we CHOSE to travel this way and knew (mostly) what to expect. It WILL get easier.

Ride up enough 10% grades and biking gets easier.

Snapshots, Or a Day in the Life of a Bike Traveler

Day 2, middle of nowhere near Alcala del Jucar

After a first day pedaling through fragrant orange groves, today is vineyards, sweeping views, quiet roads, sunshine. Life is good!

Well, until pain in Chelsea’s knee flares up. It’s bad enough that she has to walk steep climbs. Ruh roh. Why? Because I forgot to mark her seatpost before packing up her bike for the plane. #fail

Too bad fresh olives off the tree don’t fix knee pain.

This is trip-ending pain. I’m stressed, melancholic…but all I can do is carry more of her gear. Is it tendon? Muscle? She’s basically pedaling with one leg. For the next four days, she’ll battle this until massage and the body’s magical ability to heal triumph. Her ability to push through impresses me to no end.

The day’s highlight is a long, twisting descent into a river valley, where we relax at a picnic table. As always, you’ve gotta pay the piper – it’s a bruiser climb out a barely-rideable 12% grade. I pedal ahead, then run back to help Chelsea push her bike uphill to rest her knee.

Food break with a view at the top of the climb.

This mutual support while bike touring strengthened our relationship in the past and feels good to revisit. Silver linings and optimism are the name of the game with bike touring. And perhaps always?

We soldier through into a headwind as storms threaten. Is bike touring ever easy?! Rarely. Satisfying? Yes.

50 miles, done. Time to sleep another 10 hours!

A “rest” day in Alcala del Jucar:

Our rest day is chock-full of catchup, both work for me since I work remotely during this trip as well as logistics mapping out the next couple days. It’s Saint’s Week and lodging is scarce (at best) and grocery stores are randomly closed. Not ideal in small villages where siesta hours already shut down everything from 2-5:30 pm. Getting in the swing of things!

My usually bulletproof stomach is off and I barely touch my pan tomate for breakfast and stare at food, uninterested. A starvation diet for riding 20+ hours/week is not ideal. It clears in a few days, perhaps a mix of over-exertion and dehydration? Me not eating sets off alarm bells for anyone who knows me, but I’ll survive.

The classic Spanish breakfast: pan con tomate.

Not to fear: we book the LAST room in all of Albacete, a city of 200,000. Turns out it’s because there’s a kid’s kung fu contest – mixed with Saint’s Week, it’s a volatile combo. Almost as volatile as the wind.

Days 4-6: Into the teeth of the gale

Tilting at windmills, but still smiling. For this photo, at least.

“It’s NEVER windy here,” says everyone we meet. Mmm hmmm. For three days, we beat our quads and spirits against the onslaught. Wind turbines spin merrily away as we crank uphill into the wind. Next trip, I’m Googling “prevailing winds” and buying a sail for our bikes.

Whatever. It’s just weather. It will pass. My stomach is feeling better and so long as I eat, I don’t swear (too much) at the *&$@!$ headwinds. Grind it out.

The roads are quiet and the scenery undulates and flows under our wheels. Lodging is varied and fun – ancient Airbnbs, “casa rurales” and “complejos,” farmhouses and old estates for cheap. We both have entertaining audiobooks and that always helps.

Cheap real estate!

Day 7: Cruising on a Via Verde….

FUN! We eat a giant breakfast of soy yogurt, fruit, and granola from a huge grocery store haul the day before, fountains splashing all around us. We’re staying in a “casa rural,” an apartment in the country that is cheap and pretty with custom wood and metal work.

Our route for the day is one of the Via Verdes (greenway), disused railway lines reconditioned for use by walkers and cyclists. Spain is criss-crossed by dozens of these. This one, from Reolid to Beas de Segura, is a real treat: crushed gravel, rolling hills through vineyards, ruined houses along the side, picnic benches, and a niiiice overall descent to our stay for the night.

Loving the Via Verdes!
Loving the Via Verdes!

It’s a (much-needed) easy day, a break from the rude awakening this first week from hills and headwinds. A cyclist rolls up beside us and we chat with British Monty for an hour about his adventures. Turns out he’s bike toured through Bend and near my hometown in Idaho, along with all over Spain. Small world. Always.

Our stop for the night is a complejo, an old estate that hosts a lot of weddings. The owner (Arturo) is a cheery, helpful cyclist who offers the use of his bike repair gear and chats with me. My Spanish is improving, but man, my brain hurts when I get off the rails from “we need to book a room” or “do you have…?” and venture into general conversation. Patience, practice…

An excellent day on the bikes.

Day 8: Beas de Segura to Ubeda

The skies are hazy and it’s hot. I’m thankful for a 2nd day in a row with no wind. A guy collects wild asparagus along the road and we keep seeing him at each pullout as we slowly roll by up a 1,000 climb.

We spend the day pedaling through endless olive groves, a monoculture of the “Spanish liquid gold.” (Tell a Spaniard that Italy’s olive oil is better to set off some fireworks!) Despite the ham-lovers in Spain, eating here as a vegan is quite easy since things are cooked (ahem soaked!) in olive oil rather than lard.

Charging through miles upon miles of olive groves.
Charging through miles upon miles of olive groves.

Mmmmm, food…

We find a cafe and relax awhile, Chelsea fueling on coffee. Then we hit the grocery store Dia (right before the 2 pm siesta closure) and score vegan croissants and chocolate pudding. Later, I sit by the ruins of an old house and dip croissants in the pudding, grinning like a maniac. I don’t eat like this at home, but hey, when in the middle of nowhere with a huge climb incoming…

That powers us up the final climb, a winding 2,000 footer. I FaceTime with a couple friends during the climb, chatting with them to pass the time. For such a long trip, staying in touch is a priority for me and it’s nice to see friendly faces.

Hazy views of olive groves.

Our stop for the night is in Úbeda, probably named because it contains the word BED and we have two comfortable, queen-size ones in our hotel. Bike touring makes you appreciate the small things!

Day 9: North of Granada on a road busy with holiday traffic:

​​Thirty minutes ago, we laugh​ed​ hysterically as we scoop​ed​ food into our mouths by the side of the road​ like disheveled bike vagrants​. Now we ​huddle ​under a tree as the sky unleashes fury, rain lashing the ground.

“Hey, pass me that bar of chocolate.” We gobble half of it. The ups and downs of bike touring, plus the constant companion of hunger, packed into less than an hour. The simple things are all that matter in these moments.

Mountains popping out between rainstorms. When it’s pouring, there just aren’t as many photos…
The simple things: a washer for your clothes and a warm fire in our Airbnb.

We woke that morning to pouring rain. ​We’ve got gear, but it still sucks to pedal a big day getting soaked. These days make sunshine feel so good, but also can make you question whether you made the right choice leaving the warm, comfortable hotel room just to pedal like some lunatic through the Spanish countryside. If we didn’t need to meet our friends, we’d stay inside!

Actually, after feeling tired yesterday, today I’m good, joking about the annoying swish swish of my rain pants and how terrible the weather is. Chelsea, on the other hand, might give her bike to any passing car in return for a ride to Granada… Luckily, bike touring is a team sport. I spoon feed her cold lentils from a can in the rain – “living the dream, baby!” She stares at me like I’m crazy.

Lunch break (a different day) under the pines!

​Waiting out rain and 4,500′ of climbing means we are toeing the line for a sunset finish in a cold drizzle. ​Luckily, our buddies Jen and Dave drive out from Granada to meet us at our Airbnb for the evening. When they offer us a ride with 9 miles​ to go​ (all climbing), ego be damned: hell YES we accept the ride. This ain’t the Tour de France and we don’t have to pedal every single mile.​​

As we climb up an ​endless ​hill in their van, the temperature drops​ ​and sleet, then hail ​thunders on the roof. I turn the heat up and grin. Bike touring is all about contrast, and right now it’s reeeeal nice to be warm and dry ​in the company of good friends.

What up, Dave!

Tomorrow, Chelsea will go for a hike with Jen and Dave while I pedal solo into Granada. A perfect day on the bike. Well, mostly: doubletrack mud sticks to my tires so badly I can’t even move a couple times. Find that silver lining – at least there aren’t any cars? The sun is shining?

I calmly tear off a fender and pedal on. Sometimes, it’s all you can do.

Resting up in Granada and exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains. Life is good!

Where Do You Pee, Sleep and Shower? Bike Touring FAQs!

Hola! In case you missed it, during April and May, we’re pedaling a big loop around Spain and Portugal.

Prepping for our trip, I realized only 1.6% of my friends know what the heck bike touring is all about. From the basic to the more elaborate, questions poured in. And SO, here is my handy-dandy primer for anyone wondering how this bike touring thing works!

My friend Michael offered to join us on the tour too!

Hannnnng on. What the heck IS bike touring?

Three ingredients: you, your stuff and a bicycle. Add pedal power.

Go places. Meet people. Eat SO much food to fuel more pedaling. Bike, eat, handwash laundry in the sink, sleep, repeat. Hate headwinds, always. Welcome to bike touring!

Nuances and approaches abound. Everyone has an opinion about the best way, but you can do it on a $5,000 bike with custom gear or a $100 bike wearing a ratty backpack. Either way, it’s phenomenal way to see the world.

All the tiny villages have central fountains for filling water. This one had a suspicious old man who watched our every move…

Bike touring sounds hard. Why do you do it?

In my early 20s, I traveled to 30 odd countries in a year, ticking them off as “been there” even for a lone day in Latvia or a night in Poland. I saw most of it from a train or bus window.

These days, I prefer to see less and (hopefully) experience more. Bike touring exposes us to the terrain, weather (good and bad), smells, sounds, people, animals and other facets of life that we’re insulated from while traveling by plane, train, bus or car. Bees buzzing in an orange grove or a pretty bird at a lunch spot come to mind from the last two days.

The pace is perfect – juuust fast enough to cover ground, but slow enough to pause in places you’d otherwise blow through in a car. As a bonus, it’s easier to visit small villages or rural areas while biking compared to train or plane travel. In Europe, most people hit big cities – Paris, London, Vienna – and miss the less touristy zones that offer a lot. I prefer fabulous places like Alcala del Jucar, a pueblo with houses built into the cliffs that looks like Cinque Terra, but didn’t have a single foreign tourist staying there.

A sunset view of Alcala del Jucar to end a long day on the bikes. We descended into town via the castle and 6′ wide serpentine streets.

Don’t you get tired/bored/wet/a sore butt?

All of it. Frequently all in one day!

The ups and downs are starker with bike touring relative to motorized travel. You REALLY appreciate the big meal after a long day on the bike; the sun shines oh-so-sweetly after a couple hours pedaling in the rain. Fresh-squeezed OJ is THE BEST. And ohhhh man does a shower and a bed feel good after 8 hours cranking into a headwind. It’s all about contrast. (Did I mention I hate headwinds, those soul-sucking, #%!$#% creations del Diablo.)

Contrary to the above, it’s not all a sufferfest either. Most days feature beautiful landscapes, generous and friendly people, and a sense of adventure I just don’t get by zipping down the highway in a metal canister. “Earning your turns” in backcountry skiing or mountain biking: doing hard work makes the sense of accomplishment sharper and sweeter.

Or at least this is what cycle tourists will tell you… Maybe we’re lying?

Sometimes you just gotta push! This 2 mile climb was SO steep, over 15% grade.

What’s your route?

We flew into Barcelona and are riding a clockwise loop around Spain and Portugal. Here’s my super rough route on Google Maps, which I created more for figuring out our necessary mileage to ride the entire loop. In no way does this show actual roads we are riding; I merely plugged in big cities along our route and will dial things in a day or two out (or on the fly) during our journey using the app Komoot (see below under navigation).

If you want to follow each day, I’m posting our rides on Strava. Here’s my profile.

How far do you ride each day? How long does that take?

For this trip, we’re taking it relatively easy and aiming for 40-50 miles per day. On past tours, 50-70 mile days were common. However, Spain is HILLY and we’ll find ourselves on some crazy-ass goat paths at times, so that’s part of my rationale for mileage.

We’re also planning to do more hiking, running, and exploring cool Spanish cities on this trip to mix it up. We average ~8-10 mph (depending on terrain) when we’re moving, so a 50 mile day is ~6 hours of pedaling, plus 2-3 hours during the day of off-bike time (meal stops, food shopping, resting, peeing in fields). Bike, eat, sleep… There’s a reason I hadn’t blogged on the trip yet!

Quiet, perfect roads.

What if your bike breaks?

There’s always something with this many miles on a bike! I put together a comprehensive kit and we’re prepared for many mechanical issues (brakes, flat tires, spokes, derailleur adjustments, and broken racks). Beyond that, it’s up to the kindness of strangers to get us to a bike shop!

Brake fix!

Are you working while you travel?

Yup! Per our usual, this isn’t a “vacation” so much as traveling while working. Europe is nice because the 9 hour time difference allows me to enjoy the day and then I check on things in the evening. Having a cell plan makes it easy to still explore cities without being tethered to a computer every night.

How do you navigate?

By the seat of our pants! We don’t plan ahead, so it’s a mix of looking at low-traffic roads on maps (hard copy or online). For past tours, I’ve used a variety of tech and paper maps. This time, I’m using the GREAT app Komoot and won’t buy any paper maps.

Orange groves alllll day long out of Valencia.

Do you listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks?

YES. Believe it or not, sometimes biking all day can get boring. (Shocker!) Some people love to disconnect completely while traveling and let their thoughts run rampant. I enjoy that, and it’s also wonderful to disappear into an audiobook or podcast interview during a bruiser climb over a steep pass or into h#@dw!nds.

How do you deal with different riding paces?

Patience and love! I also carry way more weight to even things out. Downhill, Chelsea zooms along. If there’s a headwind, we cruise at the same pace if she drafts off me. On big climbs, I wait at the top. 🙂 When it gets REALLY steep, I ride ahead, then run back down and push her bike uphill. #supportivespouse

Where do you stay?

A mix of three options: camping, hotels/various guesthouses, and an amazing hosting service called Warmshowers (like couchsurfing, but for touring cyclists). It usually comes out to about a third each.

For THIS trip, however, we are celebrating Chelsea’s 40th birthday and decided to leave the camping gear at home, tee hee! Spain is chock full of cool, affordable guesthouses and we’re going to scope them out. As I write this, I’m sitting by a warm fire in the pueblo of San Pedro in an ancient Airbnb.

Heeeere’s Johnny. A cool place with lots of custom wood and metal work on the Casas Rurales route. The full apartment only cost 50 euros.

Do you book everything in advance?

Noooo way. For a short trip, I suppose that could work. Not for multiple weeks though.

Plus, one of our favorite parts of bike touring is the relaxed, open travel pace. There’s constant serendipity with meeting people (seaplane ride, anyone?), cool towns where we want to stay longer, or days where we ride longer (or shorter) depending on weather and energy levels. Booking ahead takes away flexibility and can create a domino effect of rush rush rush, which is not how we like to travel. We book 1-2 days out at most.

How do you wash your clothes?

We travel with a high-tech, custom clothes washer: our hands. Whether in a folding camp sink or a hotel sink, we grind our clothes around for a few minutes with some soap and water, rinse things out, and hang them up. (Quick-dry everything!) If they aren’t dry the next morning, we “yardsale” them on our bike racks while we ride orrrr ride with a wet shirt for a bit. #keepingitclassy

Back to the basics…laundry!

Do you rent bikes?

Negative! For such a long trip, we wanted our dialed-in touring bikes. My Salsa Fargo travels on the plane boxed up in a standard bike box, whereas Chelsea’s Co-Motion Pangea breaks in half and fits in a standard suitcase. Airlines charge for my big box, but Chelsea’s Pangea is free for international flights. (Although I got lucky and didn’t get charged for our flight to Barcelona!)

How do you carry gear – backpacks?

OUCH. My nether regions hurt just thinking about pedaling day after day with a backpack on. (It’s tough enough without one!) We carry gear in various bike bags, the largest of which are saddlebags (aka panniers) that attach to rear racks on each of our bikes. I also have a frame bag and we both have some small easy-access bags near our handlebars for snacks and tech.

Miss Vanna Chelsea demonstrating our bikes fully loaded.

How heavy are your bikes and gear?

With empty bags, fenders and racks, our bikes each weigh in around 35 pounds. My total gear for this trip is ~30 pounds (packing list post coming at some point). Chelsea is rolling super light and her stuff weighs in under 20 since she doesn’t have a camera or a laptop.

That said, we carry ~5 pounds each of water/orange juice/coconut water. Add food to that and I easily have 50 pounds of gear. Load me up enough and it makes our riding pace more similar!

How do you go to the bathroom?

Like true opportunists! Various lodging that we stay in, restaurants, cafes, grocery stores… It ain’t rocket science. Oh, and loooots of peeing outside during the ~8 hours each day that we spend outdoors. Spain seems to lack public bathrooms, especially in rural areas, but we’ve had no problems.

How much does it cost to ship a bike?

It varies dramatically depending on the airline. Typical amounts are $100-200 each way. (Damn you, scammer airlines!)

Ohhhh these Via Verdes (rails to trails). Chelsea on the Camino Natura de Segura (I’m up on a train trestle – we don’t travel with a drone…)

How do you get internet/cell phone?

Local SIM cards! With lots of countries and plenty of competition, they’re cheeeap in Europe. Make sure your phone works on GSM networks over here though – if your phone is unlocked, you should be good to go. For Spain, we bought Vodafone cards, which claims the best coverage in Spain and cost us $20 for 15 gb of data.

Are you meeting any friends along the way?

You know it! We spent time with Marc and Clara in Barcelona and will connect with the Long Haul Trekkers again to ride from their home in Granada to Seville. If it lines up, we’ll meet up with our world-trotting friends Hilary and Don during their mid-life gap year.

We rode awhile with Monty from Wales, who has toured through both Bend and N. Idaho where we grew up!

What do you eat?

So. Much. Food. We’re both vegan, so it requires a bit of planning, but so far Spain has proven quite easy to find great options. I’ll write a full post on this later!

And with that, time to kick back and enjoy this fire. Incoming soon: tales from our first week pedaling through Spain!

Got more questions about logistics? Comment below or send me an email! Perhaps an FAQs 2 will happen later.

What I’ve Learned Cycle Touring 7,000 Miles on a Vegan Diet

Pedaling up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park cycle touring

This post first appeared here on Mind Body Green.

Over the past two summers, Chelsea and I have cycled 7,000 miles through 14 countries. No sag wagon, no designated route—just leg power, our bikes, gear, and desire for adventure.

During our travels, we accept local advice and hospitality, wake up open to each day’s surprises, and wing it whenever possible. But one thing we are always adamantly consistent about is our food. For ethical, health, and environmental reasons, we choose not to eat any animal products.

The bike tours were challenging, eye-opening, fantastic—a full range of emotions every day. From headwinds to breathtaking views to searing heat to idyllic European villages to crumbling rural towns, we pedaled through it all. Navigating cobblestone cycle paths in France was a pain; finding great vegan food while burning 5,000 calories per day proved to be a simple aspect of the trip.

Here’s what thousands of miles and a couple million pedal strokes of cycle touring on a vegan diet has taught me:

Few people are surprised about your food choices

Special diets are everywhere now, and most people know someone on one. “Oh, my cousin is gluten-free” or “my brother eats Paleo” was a common refrain. Tiny cafés in Nebraska (not exactly a vegan stronghold) easily accommodated our needs by piling vegetables on hash browns.

Getting enough protein is not an issue

Even biking 50 to 80 miles per day, my body repaired itself and built muscle. I trimmed fat, but my leg muscles grew. I even added muscle to my upper body by doing daily upper-body workouts. When people ask me where I get my protein, I can honestly say that I simply eat lots of plants. No powders, no supplements—just real food. I’m more concerned about fiber—only 3 percent of people eat enough each day, versus 97 percent of people who get enough protein.

Just over the pass in Glacier National Park.

My energy levels were firing

Unlike the days when I’d eat a giant sandwich with cheese and meat and sink into an afternoon stupor, plants don’t bog down my body. A veggie burrito or big salad crafted from ingredients in any grocery store keeps my system cranking. I was biking eight hours a day and still had energy to do push-ups each night.

Recovery was super fast

I rebounded and recovered quickly from physical efforts that would have previously sidelined me for a couple of days. Since a plant-based diet leads to lower inflammation, faster recovery from athletic events or workouts is an added bonus.

Many top athletes are vegan

I was attracted to a vegan lifestyle by the potential health benefits. Badass vegan athletes like UFC fighter Mac Danzig, ultra-marathoners like Scott Jurek, and triathletes like Rich Roll inspired me to give it a shot. While I wasn’t cranking out record-smashing 100-mile runs or choke-holds, I noticed an increase in performance.

Seeing and smelling animal feedlots opened my eyes to the plight of animals

Biking past stinking feedlots in the rolling hills of Iowa and Austria was gnarly. Getting buzzed by animal transport trucks on their way to slaughterhouses reinforced my desire to completely opt out of animal agriculture.

The excellent bike paths of Slovenia with the Julian Alps in the background.

Western Europe is a plant eater’s paradise

Countries like Belgium, Spain, and Germany are years ahead of the U.S. in terms of vegan awareness and availability of plant-based alternatives. Grocery stores stock inexpensive organic produce, and almost every restaurant server knew the word vegan, even in rural villages. Big cities are a plant-eater’s promised land—Prague has 26 vegetarian restaurants!

We didn’t have to worry about refrigerating food

This is a small thing only a cycle tourist will appreciate. When we were pedaling through the middle of nowhere for days at a time, unspoiled food was a big deal.

Both Europe and the United States grow amazing amounts of corn and soy

I knew the Midwest U.S. was a breadbasket. It was a surprise to discover the same in Europe, where much of the countryside is used for crop production. Between the two, we spent literally two months cycling past fields of corn and soy—90 percent of it aimed for animal consumption.

Traveling made us vegan ambassadors

In some areas, we were the first vegans anyone had met. “Wait, no cheese on your pizza?” People were incredibly nice and also intrigued by our food choices. Many asked questions. Our goal was to be knowledgeable and speak from a place of conviction (animal rights) or data (health and environmental facts). The biggest thing? To be genuinely friendly and meet people at their comfort level.

Touring through the Adirondack Mountains of New York on a perfect fall day.

After thousands of miles of cycle touring, our belief in a vegan lifestyle has never been stronger. Few choices affect personal health, the environment, and animal welfare as much as opting out of animal agriculture does. Meat and dairy consumption is declining, restaurants are increasingly catering to vegans, and vegan alternatives like Beyond Meat are flourishing. Traveling as a vegetarian or vegan will only get easier.

As Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary says, “This lifestyle is not about deprivation; it’s about living inspired.” I encourage people to check out movements like Meatless Mondays or the 30-Day Vegan Challenge. See how your body feels and adopt what works for you. Then get out there on your bike and start training for your next (or first) bike tour.

I plan on pedaling thousands more miles as a vegan, so maybe I’ll see you out there!

2015: A Year in Review

Sunset in Morro Bay, California

On Christmas Day, Chelsea and I talked about 2015 during a walk along the sea cliffs of Santa Cruz. Instead of throwing out new adventures and aspirations, we studied the rear view mirror.

We are currently landed in Santa Cruz enjoying the sunshine and excellent local trails. This stillness affords reflection on what we’ve done, seen, and experienced this past year. (To see what we’re up to anytime, check out a new page I added, inspired by Derek Siver’s movement.)

Sitting down to write after a few weeks off, I broke things down into four categories:

  1. Fabulous Moments
  2. What Went Well
  3. Things to Improve
  4. What I’m Excited About

This is also a chance to share some of my favorite photos from 2015. Let’s begin with the fun!

Fabulous Moments

Exploring Half Moon Caye in Belize

We kicked off 2015 by snorkeling and kayaking in Belize with Chelsea’s family. With warm blue water, incredible birds, and a friendly group of other travelers, (luxury) camping on this tiny island was an unforgettable trip.

Sunrise on Half Moon Caye

Mountain biking and building community in Utah

I can’t get enough of this red rock playground. I certainly mountain biked my legs off, yet my April trip through Utah was also about community.

I met up with half a dozen friends from Oregon, California, and Colorado, crossed paths with various blog readers, and built a friendship with the Keys to Freeze crew. There is nothing like spending time in nature with great people!

Porcupine Rim above Moab

Porcupine Rim in Moab

Cycle touring Europe

A highlight of 2015! If you are into cycle touring and haven’t experienced the car-free bike networks throughout western Europe, I can’t recommend it enough.

Loving the views on the north side of the Slovenian Alps.

Loving the views on the north side of the Slovenian Alps.

Over 3.5 months, we biked 2,500 miles through 13 countries, taking plenty of time to relax and explore along the way. Experiences like volunteering to help refugees in Salzburg, pedaling with buddies in Croatia, and exploring the deep history of the continent only whet my appetite for Europe.

We finished pedaling in Prague, a special place for me and Chelsea since we met there nine years ago for our first date. It was a treat to return to the romantic Czech Republic and walk down the cobbled, uneven streets of memory lane.

A gondola glides through the canals of Venice.

A gondola glides through the canals of Venice.

Road tripping with my dad

I’ve wanted to take my dad on a trip for years. As fall colors faded and October wrapped up, we finally did it, rolling out in the Sprinter van to explore Montana for a couple weeks.

We cycled in Glacier and watched geysers in Yellowstone, then explored old mining towns. It was a powerfully bonding trip.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Things That Went Well

A stronger relationship with Chelsea

People ask us how we tolerate so much time together. (“I’d go nuts being around my husband all the time.”) While we have some tips, the summary is that long-term travel brings us closer together because it requires mutual support.

If there’s an issue on a bike tour, we’re the only two there to get through it – together. We can’t just sweep arguments away to be dealt with another day. Handling it immediately removes the potential for a tiny fight to fester and become gangrenous. Two years traveling together has bonded us more than ever.

Living a vegan lifestyle was easy

Shifting to 100% plant-based in 2013 felt like a big change. These days, it’s both easy to navigate and authentic to who we are.

We’ve traveled through 16 countries, eating amazing food and encountering great support along the way, all while living true to our values. As an added bonus, the selection of vegan options for yogurt, meat, cheese, milk and beyond continues to expand. (You have to try Miyoko’s off-the-hook vegan cheeses.)

If you’d like to try a month-long vegan adventure in the new year, Veganuary is a great free resource and community.

Lobbying with the Humane Society of the US in Salem, Oregon.

Lobbying with the Humane Society of the U.S. in Salem, Oregon.

Lots of reading

Immersing myself in a book remains one of my favorite pastimes, and I’m happy to say I read more in 2015 than in any other year. Picking up a book is like taking a class with an expert for free (via the library) or for the bargain rate of a $10 ebook.

Business more streamlined than ever

This year marked the first in nearly a decade where I didn’t work directly with clients. While less profitable overall, managing my business instead of client expectations is both less stressful and frees my time to pursue other passions.

I’m still involved on a daily basis, but my mental energy isn’t drained at the end of the day. It was scary letting go of the day-to-day interactions with clients, but remains one of my best decisions. To those of you deliberating over hiring someone, I say do it.

Pausing for a moment in Bryce Canyon

My friend Reese pauses for a moment in Bryce Canyon

Things to Improve

Less pressure on myself to constantly explore

The flexibility and openness of our lives sometimes creates a compulsion in me to string adventures together the way we did in 2014. While I’m (usually) aware of this, I still find it hard to be content just being instead of constantly doing. In February and March, I struggled to feel centered in Portland and mostly dreamed of leaving again.

Constant motion makes for an interesting life, but eventually it decreases my appreciation for an activity or location. This is not a good thing. While the list of places I want to explore is long, I don’t have to visit them all in the next two years!

The other downside of constant motion is that routines are tougher to uphold. Practicing the guitar or finding space for yoga is tougher (my tight hip flexors will attest to that). Focused time for deep work doesn’t just materialize; it must be a priority. Pausing in one place provides the platform for all of that.

This coming year, I want to embrace pauses as creative periods and time to reconnect with friends and the routine of a grounded life. Hopefully we can then launch into new experiences with vigor and energy.

Columbia River Gorge in the fog

Relaxing with a view of the Columbia River Gorge at sunset.

Writing more

I’ve consistently written here, and in 2016 I’m also aiming to write two articles per month for outside publication. This means I need to write more, a challenge I’m excited to take.

What I’m Excited About

More videos and interviews with people we meet

Until recently, I never seriously considered pursuing video. It seemed outside my sphere – photography and writing were enough. After creating a few videos, however, I’m hooked.

My primary desire is to tell better stories. Video is a perfect way to do that, and I’m looking forward to making more of them in 2016 and sharing them with you.

Our buddy Stevie from SprinterLife.com and her friend.

A perfect day in Yosemite at Vernal Falls with our friend Stevie from nomadlyinlove.com.

More music and art

No, not just Macklemore at full blast in the van. (Been awhile since we did that.) Guitar! I’m a few weeks into online lessons to finally crack through the intermediate-level swamp I’ve been mired in for ten years.

Chelsea is digging into watercolor pencils and is far too good already. I may give it a whirl, but I sure as hell am not sharing the result here. I respect you more than that.

Onward!

Here’s to looking back and congratulating ourselves on a year well-lived. For 2016, Neil Gaiman says it well:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

To everyone out there, thanks for sharing this journey with us, both on the road and on the web. I hope 2016 is full of adventure, growth, and creativity.

Happy New Year!

Grinning it up in Death Valley.

13 Countries, 2 Flats – European Bike Tour Stats and Favorites

Sudtirol bike path magic

I’m one of those weirdos who loves tracking numbers. They help me understand and frame the world, my data-gobbling brain dining happily when served courses of city populations, distances traveled, workout stats, or even Quicken files tracking our spending. I’ve dialed this back over the past few years to avoid turning into Spock, but still find it fun.

Did I mention that we’re done with our summer bike tour of Europe? We are! And since I enjoyed compiling stats for our 2014 U.S. tour, I repeated it this time – welcome to the summary of our 3.5 month bicycle tour through Europe in 2015. We’re currently relaxing post-trip (i.e not biking) in New York City before we head west to Idaho (on a plane). 

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains, finishing in Prague.

This tour we aimed to mix cycling with maximum enjoyment, a shift from the mostly physical challenge of last year. To accomplish that, we rode less mileage and parked the bikes for more days off. Both touring styles are worthwhile, but I had more fun during this European cycle tour thanks to mixing up the activities.

Below is the breakdown, a compilation of favorite places, distances and time on the bike, and other random tidbits. Data can’t fully capture the experience, but perhaps it helps an aspiring cycle tourist wrap their head around the hard data and think, “hey, I could do that.” (You can!)

Onward.

A big brdige span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

A big bridge span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

All the Info

  • Total distance ridden: 2,440 miles (3,935 kilometers), the same distance as flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, London to Toronto, or Amsterdam to Timbuktu.
  • Number of countries we pedaled in: 13 (almost as many as the 15 states as we crossed during last year’s U.S. tour).
  • Favorite cycling area: Italy’s NE Sudtirol region, followed closely by Slovenia (which still wins my favorite country award). Ah, the Alps are so fantastic!
  • Biggest surprise about Europe: there is a ton of farmland and animal agriculture, which I hadn’t encountered during previous travels since I kept to metropolitan Europe. Corn fields are everywhere and the stink of animal feedlots tinted the air in many areas of the continent. Some countries (Belgium, parts of eastern France, and Hungary) hinted of the American Midwest in terms of their crops and landscapes.

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

  • Total days touring: 103 (June 13 – September 23, 2015)
  • Days pedaling: 64
  • Days NOT bike touring: 39, almost 40% of the trip. Compared to last year’s U.S. ride (only 18 days off), our aim for Europe was more time to explore, relax, and hang with people we met along the way. We gave ourselves permission to laze about, explore cities with friends, lace up the running shoes, sit in cafes and read, or mountain bike. Mixing it up was very fun, and we’ll aim for this style of touring in the future.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

  • Average time pedaling each day: 3.8 hours, barely a part-time job.
  • Extra calories burned per day: 3,000-5,000. I ate almost non-stop (but what’s new).
  • Average distance per day: 38 miles (61 km), close to our initial plan of 40 miles per day.
  • Total pedal strokes: 934,000, give or take a few.
  • Longest day: 55.7 miles (90 km) and 5.25 hours of pedaling in Slovenia.
  • Elevation gain: 85,754 feet (138,000 m). That’s 16 miles straight up, but only 1,355 feet per day on average.
  • Number of cycling networks traversed: 11, though I’m probably missing a few. Europe has fantastic cycle networks and resources for cycle touring.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

  • Days without a shower: Zero! Ah, Europe, the lap of luxury.
  • Number of other bike tourists encountered: Hundreds! Compared to the U.S., where we went 61 days without seeing another cycle tourist, Europe was a buzzing hive of activity. We’d see at least a few long-distance tourers per day and dozens of people out for day rides.
  • Favorite things about touring in Europe:
    • Well-signed, no-car bike paths made route planning easy, plus lowered stress levels since we rarely spent time fencing with big trucks.
    • Frequent towns or cities, which meant easy logistics for water, food, and lodging. Even the tiniest villages had historic guest houses or inns, so we stayed in cities far more than our U.S. tour. Lodging values were fantastic too.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn't seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

  • Things I missed about the U.S.:
    • The wide open wilderness of the States dwarfs the nature in Europe. The U.S. is BIG, and though it makes logistics tougher, pedaling for hours in the middle of nowhere carries a special magic. The east side of Glacier en route to Canada comes to mind.
    • Communication created some headaches. With 10 languages over three months (none of them Spanish, argh!), the constant roadblock to speaking with people sometimes made us feel frustrated and isolated. I acknowledge that I have no room to bitch since people were accommodating, friendly, and spoke pretty good English (along with French, German, Dutch…).
  • Longest continuous climb: 11 miles from Austria up up up to the Czech Republic. This was also our biggest elevation day at 3,500’, though an honorable mention goes to the hilly Ardennes region of Belgium for working us over.
  • Steepest climb: multiple 19% passes in the Alps. The toughest pass was from Austria up to Slovenia, a 6-mile onslaught so consistently steep it was almost laughable, followed closely by Resia Pass from Italy into Austria. (Moral: don’t try to cross the Austrian border!)

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria.

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria. We stayed in the lakeside village (Resia) for a few nights.

  • Most memorable song along the way: A cheery five a.m. wake-up whistled rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on the ferry ride from England to Holland.
  • Oldest accommodation: a 1,000 year-old monastery in England featuring a fun, challenging obstacle course. We stopped for a couple nights to celebrate my 33rd birthday, but my attempts to beat the obstacle course record were thwarted by old age.
  • Most countries biked in during one day: three – Luxembourg/Germany/France, Italy/Switzerland/Austria
  • Hottest temperature: 110℉ in Venice – our weather app said “feels like 125℉.” We agreed.
  • Numbers of days over 95℉: ~30, plus a handful over 100 as Europe busted through many heat records. We made two personal videos documenting our vow to never bike tour in July-August again unless it’s in Scandinavia or a place with outdoor A/C and lakes every three miles.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

  • Most scoops of gelato in one day: Six each, a three-visit day to our favorite vegan-friendly gelateria in Rovinj, Croatia when temps soared to triple digits. Cycle touring and burning a few thousand extra calories per day has its perks.
  • Swimming-in-humidity award: Hungary, where we got up at five a.m. to beat the heat.
  • Favorite cathedral: the stunning Strasbourg spires. We happened to be there for the  booming sound and light show celebrating the 1,000 year anniversary of the cathedral.
    Strasbourg cathedral
  • Most days off in a row: Eight, including no-bikes-allowed Venice and five days relaxing in Croatia with our buddies to avoid scathing heat.
  • Flat tires: Two for C, 0 for D.
  • Tires replaced: Always an FAQ from people we meet… But not a single one! C’s rear tire was getting a bit thin by the end, which is why she picked up two quick flats with just a week left in our trip. My rear tire (a Schwalbe Marathon) now has 7,000 miles on it and is going strong.
  • Other bike troubles: Two broken spokes for my bike thanks to cobblestone beatings. The rear wheel on my tough Salsa Fargo managed to survive a week of pedaling before we found a bike shop and ate lunch as the delightful old-school, long-haired owner in cutoff jean shorts grooved to jazz and fixed my rear wheel.

    Austrian sunflowers

    Austrian sunflowers

  • Number of push ups done to avoid turning into an all-I-do-is-bike upper body wimpo:  6,035. (Yes, I track weird things.) Since cycling is so exclusively lower body, I also did pull ups (usually at kids’ playgrounds), core work and elastic band exercises to stay physically balanced. I highly recommend doing this while on tour, not to mention stretching frequently so hamstrings don’t shrink to one-third their previous length.
  • Probability of returning to Europe with bikes: 100%

On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple who took this picture was 1) headed up and 2) not as happy in their flex shot.

On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple of bike tourists who took this picture were 1) headed up and 2) not happy about it.

Thanks to all the new friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Thanks to all the friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Sudtirolo, the Italian Cycling Paradise You’ve Never Heard Of (Video)

Bicycle Touring Sudtirol

Südtirol or Sudtirolo. South Tyrol. The Italian Dolomites. Whatever you call it, the NE corner of Italy was our favorite cycle touring location from our trip through Europe.

A German traveler first insisted we visit this place, a sentiment echoed by other people we met along our way. They were right; the little-known, sparsely populated region is a captivating area. I could see myself living there for an extended period sometime.

Castles (not for rent, unfortunately) and a bike path by the river. Woot!

South Tyrol lies in Italy’s far northeastern tip. It is distant from Rome to the point of autonomy, and even retains most of its tax revenue rather than passing it along to the national government. The region was formerly part of Austria (almost 3/4 of people speak German as their first language) and retains that country’s efficiency and organization. On the other hand, its capital, Bolzano, has won the Italian “best quality of life” award. (In fact, all menus and signs feature both German and Italian.)

On top of that, throw in a stunning mix of scenery and riverside cycle paths through mountain valleys or through picturesque Italian towns. Fair warning that even with the bike paths, there are some long, steep climbs! The mountain biking was also awesome, and I can’t wait to get back to explore more of that realm.

A rest day mountain bike ride in Resia through three countries (Italy, Switzerland, and Austria).

A “rest day” mountain bike ride in Resia. 40 miles, three countries (Italy, Switzerland, and Austria) and most of the climbing done via gondola. The Europeans know what’s up.

If you are planning to cycle here (do it!), the links and details are in my logistics post about bicycle touring through Europe. Everyone else just check out the photos and video documenting our two weeks in this cycling paradise (email subscribers click here, web visitors can watch the embedded version below). I finally bought some real video editing software and had a great time trying new features and honing my video production skills on this 2.5 minute compilation. More to come…

A flooded valley now sports this church spire in the middle of the lake.

A flooded valley now sports this church spire in the middle of the lake.

A rest day and long walk along the water in Resia.

A rest day and long walk along the water in Resia.

An evening rainbow on the mountains behind Toblach, Italy.

An evening rainbow on the mountains behind Toblach, Italy.

This dual wavy bridge was quite cool and is a part of Bolzano's stellar bike path system.

This dual wavy bridge was curved both sideways and up/down. It’s part of Bolzano’s stellar bike path system.

Chelsea pedals her way up a climb toward Austria.

Chelsea pedals her way up a climb toward Austria.

A view of the Alps across Lake Resia.

An evening view of the Alps across Lake Resia.

Resources, Links and Apps for Bicycle Touring in Europe

Bicycle touring in Europe has something for everyone, with terrain ranging from flat, well-signed bike paths to mountains and the challenge of the Alps. After 3.5 months exploring by pedal power, I absolutely recommend a cycling trip here. Whether your trip is long or short, self-guided or with a company, there’s great times to be had for both newbies and seasoned cyclists.

Why? Logistics are easy, with frequent lodging, water, and food sources; it seems there’s town every 5 miles in most of Europe. Plus, businesses cater to cyclists. And if you’d like to skip certain areas, train routes are plentiful. Throw in the fun of varied languages and cuisine, tons of history, and beautiful architecture and it’s simply a fantastic cycling destination.

This post describes technology and online resources to help make your European bicycle tour a success. I also list each of the 13 countries we visited and link to my favorite cycling and lodging networks in each of them. Using my external brain in Evernote, I compiled and organized these as we traveled, which made sharing easy. Hopefully it saves you a ton of time!

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

Technology to Make Your Trip Easy

Given my love of technology, I’d be remiss to not start here. In fact, only one set of paper maps were harmed during our trip (it was in England, I confess). Otherwise, we didn’t use hard-copy maps at all.

“Real” maps weren’t necessary – really! And neither was a turn-by-turn GPS device; a smartphone loaded with the right apps made navigation a cinch. That said, the correct tool spells the difference between pedaling happily along versus pushing your bike through stinging nettles on a forgotten animal trail. (I did both, but prefer the former.) Below are specific tools that I used, and perhaps also read my post about tech details for traveling:

  1. Galileo Offline Maps – my go-to phone app for touring, Galileo pulls info from the Open Cycle Map database. I tried others (Long Haul Trekkers have a great list of offline navigation apps), but Galileo is my favorite. It costs just $2 and you can download individual countries (for free) as you need them. I toyed around with downloading .gpx routes into apps like Bike Hub from biroto.eu, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. If you use a GPS, perhaps it could help you out.
  2. ACSI – this app dials into the ACSI European database for 8,500 campgrounds that are inspected on a yearly basis (i.e. they don’t suck). You can buy individual country info or just snag the entire continent’s worth of data for $13.
  3. WifiMap – if you aren’t traveling with a hotspot or don’t have Google Fi service, this offline list of wifi hotspots and their passwords can come in quite handy, though the utility varies depending on the area because the info is crowdsourced.
  4. Warmshowers.org – this network of cyclists is a great resource for staying with local people. We used it frequently during our U.S. tour in 2014, but found it tougher to arrange in Europe with everyone on holiday. It’s definitely worth checking out! There’s a great app for it as well.
  5. Booking.com and AirBnb.com – after a long day of cycling where you don’t feel like camping (such as when it’s raining or 100 degrees outside), it can be nice to book a place and not search around at the end of the day. We used the Booking.com app mid-ride some days to nail down a place so we could land without having to search for lodging. It was our favorite since there isn’t any time-sucking back and forth communication with a host, but we used Airbnb probably 25% of the time, especially for longer stays in one place when we wanted a kitchen or a full apartment. I should note that Booking.com also has apartments in some locations.

    Enjoying the view from a balcony in Resia, Italy.

    Enjoying the view from our balcony in Resia, Italy. I loved how many balconies were festooned with bright flowers.

  6. Google Maps – an oldie, but a goodie. Same as with Galileo, I’d save locations or map things before we left for the day. I tried voice navigation using ear buds initially, then decided it was unnecessary.

With the above, you’ll be fit as an Olympic marathoner for figuring out where you are, where you’re going, and where the heck you’re going to sleep. The pedaling is still up to you – I haven’t found an app for that. But now that you know how to find routes, which ones should you follow? Read on!

Crossing from Italy to Austria, Switzerland in the background.

Crossing from Italy to Austria, Switzerland in the background.

Dedicated Bike Routes, Cycle Paths, and Other Resources

We landed in London with no set route beyond a ticket out of Prague. That’s always our favorite method for exploring, though we knew of 14 EuroVelo cycle routes criss-crossing Europe like strands of a golden cycling spiderweb. Following those routes or regional networks, we spent many days on quiet country roads or bike paths, not to mention that many cities also had great cycle-only routes.

 Just follow the stickers! Crossing into France from Germany on the EuroVelo 5.

Just follow the stickers! Crossing into France from Germany on the EuroVelo 5.

Compared to the United States, there are far more resources in Europe for bicycle touring. I used the below to plan:

  1. EuroVelo (EV) routes –  the backbone of any route planning for a European cycling trip for those seeking to follow bike paths or cycle routes. The EV frequently follows local/regional maps (see below), but this overview is great for developing a general route plan.
  2. Updated October 19, 2017: Bikeroll.net looks like a great service to check out. I haven’t used it during a tour, but it looks clean and simple to use. Here’s the instructions for using it.
  3. OpenCycleMap.org – this compiles both the EV routes and regional maps to show low-traffic roads or bicycle paths. Most touring apps that I found pulled from this database.
  4. Bikemap.net – if Google Maps doesn’t have cycling options in the country (Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic), this is a great option to scope out potential elevation profiles, such as this quad-tester from Sudtirol in Italy.

Jen and Dave from Long Haul Trekkers cruise through a misty day in the rolling valleys of Slovenia.

Jen and Dave from Long Haul Trekkers cruise through a misty day in the rolling valleys of Slovenia.

Regional Bike Routes in European Countries

The EuroVelo routes are great, but what if you want or need to deviate from those? Fear not – there are many local resources available. Here’s each of the 13 countries we visited and the resources I used to navigate, all arranged in alphabetical order:

Many of the bike paths are old train lines, which means we rode through many cool tunnels like this.

Many of the bike paths are old train lines, which means we rode through many cool tunnels like this.

  1. Austria – not only is the scenery fantastic, but it doesn’t get any better than Austria’s bike infrastructure. Clear signage, car-free paths, and even bike maintenance stops. The best part? The word for “bike” in German is RAD. North to south, the Alpe Adria route rocks through the Austrian Alps. East-west, try the mountain-cutting Inn River Path from Switzerland to Germany and the Drau Cycle Path from Italy to Hungary (we rode both of them). Or just check out all of the country’s paths.

    Digging the views near Innsbruck on the Inn River Path.

  2. Belgium – you’ll need multiple resources here. First the Fiets Routes for the Dutch-speaking Flanders (northern Belgium), where we followed the famous Tour de Flanders. Then the southern, French-speaking part has two – RandoVelo and Ravel will help you through the famous WWII battle zone of the Belgian Ardennes. Fair warning that an 80k day will stack up 1000 meters of climbing in these steep hills. Here’s my post about our Belgian experience.
  3. Croatia – cycle routes here are more, shall we say, suggestions? Narrow, winding coastal roads with no shoulders and a few country roads for a breather. I recommend riding here in the shoulder seasons and getting up early to avoid traffic. It’s beautiful, but stressful riding. We joined two friends and their dog for this portion of the trip.
  4. Czech Republic – this country features an insane number of cycle routes. I can see why cycle touring is one of the favorite activities in this country, as routes are well-signed and typically follow quiet country roads. It holds a special place in our hearts since Chelsea and I met there in 2006.

    Cesky Krumlov in the southern CZ.

    Cesky Krumlov in the southern CZ.

  5. England – the National Cycle Network is the place to go for designing your cycle tour through Britain. We spent a week riding from Oxford east to the coast, and I’m looking forward to returning to explore the Lakes District up north.
  6. France – sorry, not much help here as we simply followed the EuroVelo 5 route through eastern France into the pretty Alsace wine region near Strausborg and Colmar. The super-popular EuroVelo 6 runs from France’s western edge straight east and is reportedly quite good.
  7. Germany – as you might expect, the Germans have cycle touring figured out. Their cycle network is solid, as is their list of accommodations (bike and bed, as they call it) for cyclists. We didn’t spend many days in Germany, but I found it easy to navigate.

    Storks are good luck in Europe and we saw nests like this all over.

    Storks are good luck in Europe and we saw nests on houses all over.

  8. Hungary – the EuroVelo 6 is the most common way people ride through Hungary, which is predominantly farmland. We came in from Slovenia/Croatia and pedaled around Lake Balaton, which was…ok. The beautiful north side of the lake is the only part of the trip I’d recommend (here’s the blog post about our experience).
  9. Italy – we only cycled in the NE part of the country, the beautiful Sudtirol. These two resources laid out the routes nicely. A German traveler in England insisted we visit this place and described it as a combination of Austrian efficiency and Italian quality of life (all menus and signs are in both languages, which was interesting). He was right: go here. This was our favorite mix of scenery and silky cycle paths, most next to rivers through the Italian Dolomites. (Side note: the mountain biking here rocks. Check out the riding in Reschenpass, which starts in Italy, into Switzerland and Austria, and then back to Italy. First time I’ve been to three countries in one ride. Did I mention there are four gondolas that haul you and your bike uphill?)

    A perfect bike path through Sudtirol.

    A perfect bike path through Sudtirol.

  10. Luxembourg – this tiny speck of a country has a great cycling network both in the countryside and in the picturesque capital. And lots of steep hills.
  11. The Netherlands – all you need is Nederland Fietsland. Flat terrain, perfect cycle paths, and more e-bikes than you’ll see anywhere in the world, Holland is a cycling paradise. It also has a “friends of cyclists” network where locals host cyclists. According to my friends there, the downside is the terrible weather. Here’s my post about our time there.
  12. Slovenia – a favorite country from our trip, especially the NW portion in the Julian Alps. Nice people, laid-back cities, and varied, pretty landscapes made for a great time there. However, while Slovenia lauds its cycling, I couldn’t find a digital copy of their bike routes. Luckily, the Galileo app worked well.

    Chelsea gives a final switchback into Slovenia the what-for coming over the pass from Austria.

    Chelsea gives a final switchback into Slovenia the what-for coming over the pass from Austria.

  13. Switzerland – of course the Swiss have their cycle network totally dialed. We didn’t spend much time there, but look forward to coming back.

And that, my friends, is the logistics download for countries we visited during our European cycle tour. For countries not mentioned, I recommend simply Googling “country name + cycling network” to see if there’s a regional resource. It seems there usually is.

Europe has my vote as a great cycling destination. And we weren’t the only ones out there – I saw an incredible number of people of all ages using the excellent bike infrastructure. Don’t let the language barrier intimidate you either, as nearly everyone speaks English and people are very helpful. For your next trip there, leave the backpacks at home and try exploring on your bike. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

What resources, tools, apps or other intel do you have for anyone looking to cycle tour in Europe? This post is intended as a long-term resource that will build over time, so please add your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email.

Heading up to the top of Reschenpass in NE Italy.

Climbing to the top of Reschenpass in NE Italy. With views like this, we lingered and spent over a month in the Alps.

What Refugees in Salzburg Taught Me About Speaking Up

Underground in Salzburg with Syrian refugees

During breakfast in Innsbruck, an American woman nearby leaned over to chat. Lamenting a canceled flight, she lowered her voice and said conspiratorially, “we drove down from Hamburg instead of taking the train because of, you know, all the Syrian refugees.”

I didn’t counter her comment. Later, however, I couldn’t stop thinking that I should have questioned the statement instead of avoiding confrontation and burying my voice.

What I didn’t say to this woman was that Chelsea and I had recently spent hours reading about the conflict in Syria. Or that we’d researched relief organizations and were heading to Salzburg with hopes of assisting the waves of refugees arriving via train from Hungary en route to Germany.

Why do people speak of others the way she did? The refugees leaving their homeland are fleeing civil war, taking only a couple bags of possessions. Meanwhile, this lady from Virginia sat next to her starched-shirt professor husband and followed up her bigoted statement with, “thank goodness the pool here is clean.” 

We learned that Germany, bucking convention, may accept 800,000 refugees by the end of the year (in comparison, the U.S. may take up to 10,000 in 2016). Now, however, German services were overwhelmed and they, along with other European countrieshad shut their borders, even going so far as to pause train service from Austria. Pedaling our way toward Salzburg three days later, we noticed a mile-long line of cars at the German/Austrian border as policemen checked vehicles.

Police block the entrance to the train platforms.

Police block the entrance to the train platforms.

Cut to the scene yesterday in the Salzburg train station. Tired families rested on any surface they could find; meanwhile, police officers blocked the train platforms. Suddenly a rush of people flowed by, mothers towing wide-eyed kids, fathers shouting and herding their family through the melee. A train was departing to Germany and the wall of police politely, but firmly, allowed a small number of individual families through. One group at a time climbed the stairs to seek their fate in the west.

We talked to a volunteer named Tomas who was providing coffee and tea for people. “The refugees live on rumors; they hear a train is coming, so they run to the platform. No train. Then one comes while they’re sleeping and they miss it. There’s no rest, no ease.” He ushered us past security and into an underground parking garage, the temporary home for hundreds of refugees who slept on folding cots or the ground. As unaffiliated volunteers, Chelsea and I helped out as we could.

Thin blankets and donated foam sleeping pads in the garage.

Blankets and donated foam sleeping pads in the garage.

I grabbed piles of thin blankets to serve as beds and laid them on the cold, dirty concrete of the parking garage. At the same time, I studied the refugee families coping with their situation. Teenagers in hip jeans flipped through their phones. Kids played with balloons or ran around, lost in their imagination; their drawings festooned a concrete pillar, a make-shift art wall. Parents mostly sat dully, perhaps storing their energy for the next rush to the train and a fresh chance to rebuild their lives.

We returned the next day. I kicked around a soccer ball with a tireless kid, then spoke at length with a few refugees. An Iranian man in his early 20s, a light and sound engineer, had applied for amnesty in the U.S. to escape persecution for being a Christian. Two years into the process, he left home and walked for days. Sick of waiting in Salzburg, he was considering striking out on foot for the German border and asked us if we thought it was possible to cross.

I also talked to a young Syrian, Muhammad, who had paid 2,000 Euros for a ship to Greece, then shelled out many bribes to navigate Serbia and Hungary. Twenty days into the journey, he aimed to make it to Belgium or England. When I commented on his red sweatshirt, emblazoned with the American stars and stripes, he said “I love America!” Then he showed me his phone’s red, white and blue case. My thoughts returned to the breakfast conversation with the American woman in Innsbruck.

Laying out blankets while a family passes the time in the background.

Laying out blankets while a family passes the time in the background.

I’ve encountered conversations like this too many times. The short (but unreal) discussion with a complete stranger in small-town Oregon who ranted about “the BLM and their damn gun-toting dykes” comes to mind. Or the man in Upstate New York who loathed gun control because he wanted to be able to shoot his cannon. Usually I slip into a friendly, aloof stance and excuse myself quickly. This latest chat, while relatively benign, reminds me that sticking up for others who are victims of hate and ignorance is necessary.

Dishonesty can wield the sword of an outright lie, but it can also fester in the silence of a truth unsaid. Not voicing an opinion can unwittingly condone actions or allow the speaker of hateful comments to believe their thoughts are held by everyone else. I’ve pondered this deeply since reading Sam Harris’s essay Lying during this trip, and Martin Luther King’s brilliant quote comes to mind: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Breathing the diesel fumes wafting through the underground shelter, I made a resolution. No more will I stand with a fake smile on my face while someone spouts hate or bigotry. It’s time to engage in a respectful, firm way, to tell my side of the story and share my opinion. I’m sure the experience won’t always be comfortable, but I’m hopeful that Oscar Wilde was correct when he penned, “There comes a time when speaking one’s mind ceases to be a moral duty, it becomes a pleasure.”

A big thanks to our dear friend Hilary Wang for inspiring us to get involved with this issue. If anyone would like to contribute to help the refugees, The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is helping some of the four million people fleeing Syria; until October 13th, Kickstarter is (for the first time) helping fund raise as well. Google is currently matching contributions up to $5.5 million to UNHCR and other organizations.

Eye Candy From Slovenia, My New Favorite European Country

View of Lake Bohinj in Slovenia

Some places stick with me like a bright splinter of happiness lodged in the memory banks. With views like the one of Lake Bohinj above, I’ll be dreaming about Slovenia for awhile.

As we climbed over the mountains out of Croatia, I didn’t know what to expect on the other side. I’d heard of the views, the friendly people, the quiet country roads perfect for cycling. As rumors tend to go, all of that was mostly true, though we did ride some narrow highways and joust with traffic here and there. The cities, even smaller ones, all featured separated bike paths, a stellar surprise. Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana (LubJub, as we called it), is criss-crossed by a network of cycling paths with great signage that made exploring by bicycle fun. That’s more than I can say for most big cities.

A lovely night in Ljubljana.

A lovely night in Ljubljana.

Overall, Slovenia was a mix of beautiful terrain and a quiet, laid-back atmosphere not overrun by tourists. Prices for food and lodging were about 2/3 the price of western European countries like Belgium or Austria, and it sported good food, easy navigating and pretty cities. It’s a small country packed full of variety – rolling mountains to the southwest, a picturesque capital in the center, vineyards to the northeast, and jagged peaks of the Julian Alps to the northwest. We pedaled through it all.

Slovenia is right in the center. After taking the ferry from Venice to Croatia, we headed NE out to Hungary before looping back west into the Alps.

After taking the ferry from Venice to Croatia, we headed NE through Slovenia, then east to Hungary before looping back west again into the Slovenian Alps.

Overall we spent three weeks in Slovenia, crossing its borders multiple times. Our favorite part, the Alps, required sweating over quad-testing 18% mountain passes to/from Austria, which was totally worth it. Lake Bled was romantic and lovely; Lake Bohinj (a place I could stay for multiple months) was an adventurer’s paradise tucked into the mountains. Bohinj featured paragliding, mountain biking, trekking, and all the fun available on a pristine mountain lake. It’s my top destination recommendation from all our time in Europe so far.

Enough said. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Have a great weekend, everybody.

The idyllic Lake Bled and the famous church atop an island in the center.

The idyllic Lake Bled and the famous church atop an island in the center.

Chelsea and Jen enjoy the view in central Slovenia.

Chelsea and Jen enjoy the view in central Slovenia.

Even in the rain, Lake Bled is uber-romantic. Where else does a heart frame a castle, after all?

Even in the rain, Lake Bled is uber-romantic. Where else does a heart frame a castle, after all?

Locks of love decorate a bridge in Ljubljana.

Locks of love decorate a bridge in Ljubljana.

Slovenian hills don't mess around - 15%+ grades were common, even on bike routes. The views made up for it.

Slovenian hills don’t mess around – 15%+ grades were common, even on bike routes. The views made up for it.

Paddling across Lake Bohinj in the NW part of Slovenia.

Some SUPers on Lake Bohinj in the NW part of Slovenia.

Embracing the tourist life to row a swan boat out to the romantic castle in the center of Lake Bled.

Embracing the tourist life to row a swan boat out to the church in the center of Lake Bled.

Rolling through the scenic valley near Kranjska Gora in the far NW corner of Slovenia.

Rolling through the scenic valley near Kranjska Gora in the far NW corner of Slovenia.

Chelsea throws down on a soon-to-be 18% pass north out of Slovenia into Austria.

Chelsea throws down on a soon-to-be 18% pass north out of Slovenia into Austria. Steep in, steep out, but totally worth it!

I Like Big Tires and I Cannot Lie (An MTB Video)

Downhill mountain biking Petzen Austria

Two months ago, my friend Michael told me about the Petzen downhill mountain bike area in SE Austria. Since it is hunkered in the Carpathian Mountains near Slovenia and 1,500 miles from where we were in England, I figured that would never happen. Nevertheless, I added it to Evernote just in case.

Sometimes, these things work out. As we pedaled through Slovenia, I mapped out a route to Petzen. As luck would have it, we found a vegan hotel/restaurant on Lake Klopein, the perfect location for a few days off after our tour through Hungary. Petzen happened to be just a few pedal strokes (ok, 15 miles) away. A perfect day trip.

The warm-up ride to the park was worth it: the stellar downhill and views of the valley make Petzen was the best flow trail I’ve ever ridden. It was so flowy that my first six-mile run through the berms actually made me slightly motion sick! The trail, which won IMBA’s 2014 Flow Trail of the Year award, is fantastic.

Enough said. Other than visiting it, the best way to experience Petzen is through a video. Here it is.

Cycle Touring in a Hungarian Heat Wave

Pedaling Lake Balaton

The situation was dire. “They don’t have chocolate-covered rice cakes!” Chelsea reported, walking out of our favorite European grocery store, Spar. “And no ajvar either.” We were scarcely 100 pedal strokes over Hungary’s border and already were forced to continue sans our favorite snack and red pepper spread. Whatever – we hadn’t made it this far to only to crumble so easily.

The country’s history is a tough one. Smack-dab in the middle of Central Europe, Hungary was once a wealthy empire ranging from coastal Croatia east to the Black Sea. It was an industrialized nation and Budapest rang with discourse, music and art. Then the ramifications of two world wars carved up the illustrious empire and resulted in half of ethnic Hungarians living outside the new borders and 70% of its previous land holdings stripped away and handed over (or returned) to other countries. This split the beating heart of industry from the lifeblood of raw materials necessary to feed it, crushing the economy.

Sign of the times? Progress rooted in the old.

Sign of the times? Progress rooted in the old.

Though many Hungarian leaders pushed for neutrality during WWII, geography forced it to join the Axis powers. One book I read said, “they could either be broiled by the Germans or boiled by the Russians.” When Hungary tried to negotiate a surrender to the Allies, the German forces stomped in to occupy the country. Then the Russian troops invaded and pillaged. They also extracted onerous war reparations that undermined the Hungarian economy, weakened the previous government and paved the way for 50 years of Communism.

President Harry Truman, a die-hard Midwesterner, once told a Hungarian diplomat that he’d like to visit to learn about their agriculture system. He never made it before the Iron Curtain slammed shut, but if I had a few lines to report back my superficial findings based on my 10 days touring there, I’d say:

“Dear Prez Truman – fields of corn, wheat, rye and sugar beets cover the majority of the countryside. It feels like a Soviet-influenced version of Illinois. Uniform boxy homes cluster together in empty villages, the eerie silence broken occasionally by a tractor gnashing up the street. Elderly people creak by on bikes so rusty it’s a miracle the frames hold together. The cheery flowers in window boxes, so often seen in Western Europe, are gone.”

And then I’d tell Harry to watch the video I put together from our time in Hungary; it’s at the bottom of this post.

Hills of Hungary

Frankly, cycling through Hungary felt more like survival than fun, and we had a hard time enjoying it. The agricultural terrain felt monotonous and the heat hung on our backs like a scorching blanket of coals. We struggled to connect with the place in our usual way, though everyone we interacted with was incredibly cordial and friendly. One memorable evening was a nice Warmshowers stay with a lovely family in the countryside. They told us of the difficulties of starting a business or homeschooling children in a country that is still shaking off old Communist conformity.

Rising in the dark to beat the heat, Chelsea and I were pedaling each day by the time sunrise tinged corn stalks with a crimson hue. One memorable bonus was the roadside stands with delectable, juicy watermelons from southern Hungary. I ate mounds of the delicious fruit every day, spooning it directly out of the rind until my belly swelled, round and taut as the melons themselves.

Sunrise start!

Sunrise start!

Our route was a 400-mile loop out of Slovenia. The destination: Lake Balaton, a blue oval in the midst of Central Europe’s Great Plains that attracts tourists from all over the area. We put the lake in our sights after reading about the excellent bike paths circumventing its shores. Parts of the lake are so shallow that it’s possible to wade out hundreds of feet and still only be up to your waist; people stand around chatting like they’re hanging out in a park.

Wading in Lake Balaton

Balaton felt like two different worlds depending which side we pedaled. The flatter south shore featured rental houses and resorts that spawned hundreds of people and their inflatable beach equipment. Bike paths were often crowded with tourists (takes one to know one) who wandered about like bowling balls between bumpers.

The north was less developed, hillier, and more scenic, and we wound our way through grape vines as we gazed out over the crystalline blue lake from excellent vantage points. Our favorite stop was a rest day in the town of Balatongyörök, where we gulped delicious homemade strawberry lemonade on a restaurant terrace overlooking lake and enjoyed a couple hours of respite before retreating to the comfort of air conditioning. Unless squeaky beach toys and crowds are your idea of a fun bike tour, my recommendation would be to stick to the northern side of Lake Balaton.

North side of Lake Balaton

The silver lining to difficult days on the bike is that they make the rest of life easier in comparison. Cranking on pedals through blinding heat and boring scenery steels me to other tasks that might seem tough, but really aren’t too bad. Plus, hard days of cycling usually (but not always) beat a day in my old engineering office or dealing with a plumbing leak at home. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.

Our last day in Hungary was a good one, and years from now I’ll probably recall our entire trip there in a positive light. We were on the road by six a.m. and rode through winding country roads lined by corn. Tractors chugged past and we cruised with scarcely a break. Five hours and forty miles later, we’d crossed into Slovenia and were sitting by the pool at an odd Soviet-era pool complex. We then cooled off and ambled over to Spar to pick up some chocolate rice cakes. It’s the small things that keep us going some days.

Here’s that little 2-minute video I put together for Mr. Truman documenting our experience in Hungary. Enjoy.

Chelsea rolls along a bike path on the south side of Balaton.

Chelsea rolls along a bike path on the south side of Balaton.

Sharing the Road – Cycle Touring with Friends (Plus a Video!)

Team Awesome

“What’s the limit on the number of cinnamon rolls?” I asked. “I’ve had three!” confessed Dave. “After three, let’s go get gelato,” Jen chimed in.

That was just Wednesday. Days cycling in Croatia and Slovenia with our friends sped by fueled with gelato and Jen’s badass vegan cooking skills. Long swims in the warm Adriatic Sea cut the scathing summer heat; we spent evenings sitting at outdoor cafes listening to the mix of Italian and Croatian bubbling around us. Cycle touring with our buddies was a fabulous few weeks of our bike tour, yet the rendezvous almost didn’t happen.

We started our trip in June from London, whereas Dave and Jen began in Norway in early May. The plan was to meet up, but soon they were in southern Austria and we were in Belgium, with 25 hours on a train in between. Close, but not close enough, we concluded with disappointment during a Skype conversation.

So understandably, Jen was surprised two weeks later when Chelsea shoulder-checked her on the cobblestone streets of Rovinj, Croatia. “Hey, it’s Chelsea!” Blank stare from Jen. “From Portland…” Jen’s confusion lifted and big hugs followed. Dave, the inside conspirator, finally came clean on our surprise arrival, which he and I coordinated using stealth language like “the eagle is coming in for landing.”

A perfect night in Rovinj.

A perfect night in Rovinj.

Woodrow Wilson once said, “Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together,” a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. Making our friends the priority despite the obstacles, I set aside my must-pedal-every-mile ego and skipped plans to cycle through Switzerland. Instead, we took a train south through the Alps from Basel to Milan, the most graffiti-stricken city I’ve ever seen.

We chugged across northern Italy to Venice, a city as beautiful as all the hype. For two days, we embraced the cliched magic and walked hand in hand along canals, gondolas sliding by. No cars are allowed in the city, which makes it a pedestrian paradise. And (surprise!) we also learned upon arriving that bicycling is not allowed.

A peaceful moment in Venice.

A peaceful moment in Venice as a gondola slides by a bustling restaurant.

Venice is a network of 118 islands built upon sunken pillars – an upside down forest, I heard one tour guide say. And those paved islands are divided by canals and connected by steep bridges with steps. On our arrival and departure days, we slogged through triple-digit weather that melted gelato faster than Donald Trump can piss off John McCain. Lugging our bikes up steps, past selfie stick-hawking vendors, and between tourists downing pizza slices, it felt so ridiculous that I could only laugh at the irony of two cycle tourists carrying our bikes through possibly the only city in the world that forbids cycling. CrossFit Venice.

Fireworks over the canals of Venice. We happened to be in town for a yearly festival.

Fireworks over the canals of Venice. We happened to be in town for a yearly festival.

All the effort was worth it: traveling with Jen, Dave and Sora was fantastic. The mix of four cheery personalities, plus a cute dog licking faces and chasing sheep in her dreams, created laughter galore. Chelsea got into touring through riding with girlfriends, but this was my first time doing an extended bike trip with anyone else. I would absolutely do it again.

As we spent time with  Dave and Jen, a few lessons-learned cropped up. If you’re considering doing a tour with buddies (and you should!), hopefully these items help set guideposts to make sure everyone stays happy and has a great experience. Cycle touring can be a time that unites you for life.

  • Set expectations up front. Run through the nuts and bolts together so everyone is on the same page and no one thinks Dakota is a total a-hole for seizing control of navigation. (Sorry Dave, it’s a control freak thing.) The four of us discussed preferred mileage per day, budget for places to stay/camp, start times each morning, and other basics. This simple conversation set the tone early and let us focus on cycling and enjoying one another’s company. Well, I enjoyed their company at least. (Jen, sorry I ate all the watermelon.)
  • Everyone needs a Road Name. Dave “The Veganator” and Jen “Muscles/MoSo/CinnaMon” quickly realized I never stop eating and dubbed me “The Woodchipper” – picture stuffing food into a hopper followed by a buzzsaw sound. MWARRRR. “Feed it to The Woodchipper” became the mantra when there were leftovers. Chelsea is “The Hammer” for crushing hills as if they were pieces of bubble wrap. Sora is “Borba,” though she really just wants to eat baguettes all day so Bread Hund (<–German for dog) would be more fitting.
  • Accept that more people equals slower pace. Even if you all ride at the same speed, everyone has different needs for rest/picture/food/bathroom breaks. Respect each person’s needs and just reeeelax. (I’m talking to you, Dakota.)Team LongHaul and Traipsing
  • Embrace your sense of humor. This applies to most things in life, and more so in cycle touring. As hungry and tired cyclists navigating a foreign land in summer heat, communication could have quickly devolved into Alien vs. Predator. A well-timed joke, or just a goofy grin, instead turned potential friction into laughter. Dave’s sing-song rendition of Sora the Bread-Loving Hund’s voice never failed to crack me up.
  • Divide and conquer. Split up tasks. Dave and I took on route planning, navigation, and bike maintenance; Chelsea handled lodging and food shopping; Jen the Pro Chef also shopped and whipped up incredible meals like panzanella and desserts like cinnamon rolls. We all developed a keen eye for finding the panacea to hot temperatures, gelato.

    Jen's delicious panzanella.

    Jen’s delicious panzanella.

  • Figure out the money stuff. During past travels, I’ve tracked every transaction in a little book. This time around, I’m challenging my obsessive compulsive data side and only keeping track of lodging. While hanging with Dave and Jen, we split places to stay and both purchased groceries. Traveling as a group allowed us to rent awesome apartments and split the cost, which saved us all a ton of cash, which we dutifully reinvested in gelato.
    Gelato
  • Keep talking to people. It’s easy to only hang out with one another. We did this some days, but also made an effort to hang with locals. An Airbnb host joined us twice for dinner and showed us how to make Istrian soup, a delicious wine-soaked bread drink. We enjoyed another evening with a cheery Croatian family and their homemade wine (are you catching a theme?) as we discussed Communism in former Yugoslavia (the older generation consistently seems to miss the good old days prior to the wall coming down).
  • Time apart is smart. Just like any relationship, make sure there is downtime where everyone isn’t hanging out. Even if this is just everyone blue-facing on their phones or computers, time to just relax and chill is important. Then you can get back to brilliant jokes and high-brow discussions regarding divesting oil holdings (Dave, I concede).
    Time "apart"

Have an awesome time. Remember how lucky you are to travel with great people. Now that we’re in our 30s and many friends are involved in careers or raising children, it is difficult to find amigos with whom we can head out for an extended trip. Traveling with Jen and Dave bonded us all and was a grand adventure. Even the ups and down of tough days cycle touring couldn’t overshadow how much fun we had together.

Suns out, guns out

We bid adieu to our buddies in a green valley in Slovenia. They headed south into the Balkans as we pedaled east toward Hungary, memories of our time together lodged in my memory. It was time for The Woodchipper and The Hammer to ride some extra miles to burn off all the cinnamon rolls and gelato.

I’ll leave you with a fun video compilation of our time together, or click to watch below. Ciao!

 

Advice for a New Long-Distance Bicycle Tourist

Cycling through vino in France

This post is for the person dreaming of hopping on a bicycle and embarking on a self-powered journey. All you need are limbs for propulsion, a bike to haul gear, and a dash of audacity.

The hardest advice for me to follow is my own, but the below is rooted in my personal cycle touring experience. Prior to last summer, I’d done two weekend cycle tour jaunts. Then we ripped off the training wheel Band-Aid and rode 4,000 miles through the U.S. in 2014. I’m sure a few of our friends wondered whether we’d make it. Heck, we wondered if we’d make it. Yet we survived (and enjoyed) our trip. Now here we are, nine countries into a bike tour through Europe, with many miles and lessons picked up up along the way.

Crossing into France from Germany on the Euro Velo 5 bike route.

Crossing into France from Germany on the Euro Velo 5 bike route.

Bike touring is a wild, wonderful way to travel, and everyone’s experience is different. Take whichever nuggets of advice speak to you and ignore the rest. May tailwinds find you wherever you pedal.

    • You don’t need a special bike. Don’t let lack of a shiny, brand-new touring setup stop you from hitting the road. You can tour on almost any bike. A $100 yard sale bike or $4,000 titanium rig both have two wheels. Same thing for tents, stoves, sleeping bags and pads; you don’t need the ultra-light version. Logistics are quite simple. Just get out there and pedal. As a bonus, the heavier the gear, the more calories you burn and the more you get to eat.
    • Say yes to invitations. Always accept when someone invites you to join them for a meal or to stay at their home. (Unless they’re wearing a hockey mask and carrying a running chainsaw.) The best parts of touring include unplanned, serendipitous meetings with people. I’d never have flown in a seaplane in New York if shaking my head was my reaction to an invitation.
    • It’s your trip, so ride only as much as you desire. That century you want to crank out for bragging rights? It only matters to you. Nobody cares how quickly you finish the tour, the average number of miles per day, or the total elevation ridden. (Well, nobody except your addicted-to-Crossfit friend who needs NUMBERS, damn it, to wrap their head around any accomplishment.) But everyone else? They want to know the craziest and coolest places or people that you met along the way. How the trip made you feel. Which vista made your heart sing, and maybe a tale of the wettest, worst day on the road. But the mileage? Thirty per day is fine, and so is 100. Take what feels good and go with that. Feel free to curse under your breath when a 23 year old and his friend rip by you like drag racers. Their speed, and your plodding uphill grind, are both a-ok.
      Villages along an old canal
    • Accept that not everyone identifies with what you’re doing. As my uncle Steven respectfully commented after we’d ridden to Chicago, “I think you’re insane!” Also, people who don’t tour have no idea why you’re doing it, but they’ll have a story about another cycle tourist doing something way cooler than you such as riding a vintage Big Wheel around the world while building orphanages along the way. Accept that the random dude in Indiana with a story to tell isn’t trying to trump your experience; he’s merely looking for common ground. Laugh and go with it.
    • Eat real food. Lots of it. Hunger will become an annoying companion who taps you on the shoulder every hour – “just sayin’ heyyyy.” Try to consume healthy whole foods and not just Poptarts. Your body is working hard and good food is important. I am amazed how many grocery stores in the middle of nowhere have ingredients for a crisp, hearty salad. Feel free to eat your body weight in chocolate here and there too.

      Chelsea's vegan enchiladas plus wine from the French region of Alsatia.

      Chelsea’s vegan enchiladas plus wine from the French region of Alsace.

    • Your butt is going to hurt from all the hours grinding on a saddle. Get over your pride early and grease up. Vasoline works great and you can find it in any gas station. Learn to apply lube discreetly, such as by the side of a busy highway at rush hour with your back turned to the road. Most policeman have bigger fish to fry than indecent public self-groping.
    • Pack light, but bring a couple comfort items. A few luxuries from home go a long way. Bring a Kindle reader, a journal, coffee making equipment or tech to stay connected. I recommend leaving your teddy bear at home unless he’s the trip mascot, and certainly if you won him at the county fair and he outweighs your bike.
    • Audiobooks and podcasts will preserve your sanity on the long, tough days. Anyone who claims they don’t need these magical devices are too Zen to need a bike (levitation is faster for travel) or haven’t tried them yet. I borrow books digitally from the library, and podcasts are always free.
    • Keep things in perspective as shit goes awry. Travel opens you up to life’s randomness; bicycle touring doubly so. Weather, be it rain, heat, cold, or wind. Hills. Flat tires. Closed grocery stores from 2-5 (seriously Europe?). Hosts cancelling at the last minute. Some days will go to plan, and others will pour rain and your bike will tip over while you’re getting directions, carefully distributing all your electronics into a puddle. Accept that best-laid intentions are mere dandelion puffs in a stiff breeze, and also that swearing loudly in a foreign land makes you look like a moron. You are lucky enough to bike tour. Try to appreciate it, even when all you want to do is kick your bike into a ditch and stick your thumb out to hitchhike.

      The worst days are canceled by brilliant cities like Colmar, France.

      The worst days are canceled by brilliant cities like Colmar, France.

    • People want to help you. They’ll wonder what the heck you’re doing riding a bicycle in the middle of nowhere – “what’d you do, get a DUI?” – but someone you’d never talk to in your hometown will be your champion. They’ll buy you a burrito in a restaurant in Valentine, Nebraska or offer a spare tube for a flat repair in Los Angeles. Even the guy with an old beater truck plastered with NoBama stickers will rescue you when bike trouble occurs, not to mention break out his stash of prized bourbon later that evening.
    • None of your friends will have any idea where you are or how hard that day in the wind/rain/sun/hailstones felt. Know they love you and support your trip, but accept that life goes on in your absence and that you will be disconnected from the day-to-day of many people in your life. Send goofy videos of you escaping from a thunderstorm, or sing off-key happy birthday messages, but don’t expect anyone to catch every post. And don’t take it personally when people you expected to follow along have no desire to keep track of you.

      The day-to-day of touring. This wonderful, cool fountain near the Swiss border in France felt delightful.

      The day-to-day of touring. This wonderful, cool fountain near the Swiss border in France felt delightful.

    • Send your mom a note whenever you can letting her know you’re ok. She’ll love it.
    • Embrace safety. Endorse your inner cyborg and get a helmet or bar-end mirror to keep track of your riding partner and, more importantly, texting teenagers. You don’t look cool in Spandex anyway. I feel naked on a bike without one. Oh, and get a bell or horn for your bike. Yelling “on your left” invariably makes people step into your path, especially when you don’t speak the language. Everyone knows what a bell means.

      Car-free bike routes are absolutely the best.

      Car-free bike routes like this one in France are fantastic.

    • This isn’t a beach vacation. Bike touring is physically and emotionally challenging. Some day whip by like summer vacations on a Slip-N-Slide, while others drag like a Saturday spent taking the SAT’s. On the toughest days, make sure to stop to run through a sprinkler or goof around on a random piece of playground equipment. Pull over to moo at cute baby cows or play fetch with a dog at a picnic area. There’s no hurry.
    • Cherish your days off. Unless you are aiming to win Race Across America, don’t ride every day. Enjoy and explore a cool city with new friends. Sit around. Go for a run and see if your muscles remember what not biking feels like. Read a book. Call a friend or write a blog post. The more I cycle tour, the better I appreciate days to relax and absorb a place at a slower speed.

There are 237 excuses for staying put. Careers. Student loans. Love interests. Family. Pets. Societal norms. Fear. All of that is real, but in a decade, you’ll remember and cherish the memories of pedaling the world and expanding your horizons.

Your current life can probably pause, but the new you itching to break out, to have an adventure, won’t wait forever. Feed the explorer inside you before it calcifies and forgets how to run wild. Let that explorer bellow like a bull moose as you sweep down a mountain pass.

Just go. No reason needed other than your desire to wander. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”

The imposing, giant Strasbourg cathedral.

The imposing, giant Strasbourg cathedral.

We happened to catch the 1,000 year millennial of the Strasbourg cathedral. This light show detailed each statue and window on the enormous cathedral.

We happened to catch the 1,000 year millennial of the cathedral. This light show detailed each statue and window on the enormous building.

Cycling Through Belgium – Beyond Beer and Chocolate

Bruges at night

When I imagined Belgium, I pictured rivers of dark chocolate, a tradition of cycling, beer so strong it would make Hulk Hogan wobble, and fairy tale architecture. Expectations set, we pedaled south from the Netherlands and arrived via a tree-lined path fit for royalty.

Our first stop in Belgium was Bruges. Our hosts, who run an amazing B&B and also give tours of the city, are often asked, “What time does the city close?” as if it were a Disney Land kingdom. As a pleasant surprise, the hordes of tourists we were warned about never arrived. Or perhaps my expectations of “busy” is based on places like New York City, where foreigners clog the streets like cholesterol.

Canals in Belgium

There is magic in ancient cities, subtle hints of centuries gone. It is present in the echoes of foreign languages off an old cathedral, or the dark hues of old beams in a restaurant. Wandering into the Rose Red bar with its hundreds of fabric roses suspended from the ceiling, we ordered a “sampler” of Belgian beers. Sampler indeed. Four practically-full glasses arrived, plus a bottle of Westvleteren Trappist recommended by our beer-genius friend Lucy. Two hours later, heads fuzzy and hearts happy, Chelsea and I wandered along the cities canals past spotlit historic buildings and ate more chocolate. Hey, when in Bruges…

Beers in Belgium

A wonderful surprise was having the Belgian vegan community graciously host us. Chelsea commented on the Bruges Vegan blog and the author, Trudi, extended an invite to stay with her and her husband. We pedaled up to their picturesque country property and enjoyed a relaxing day talking, eating delicious garden-fresh meals and hanging out with friendly donkeys. For our next stop, Trudi posted to a Facebook group and Lyra and Martin opened their home in Ghent to us. Sitting around their table with their three dogs dozing around our feet, I was struck that two Americans were learning about Belgium from a Brazilian woman and her Dutch husband.

The nuanced differences of a foreign country trump obvious statements like, “wow, the language ain’t the same as back home.” (For the record, in Belgium the people tend to speak Dutch in the north and French in the south.) Through fun dinner discussions, we learned that yard sales are a once per year event done via a city permit. The idea of an every-weekend yard sale in the U.S. cracked our hosts up. Insurance is a bedrock-strong right in Europe, and not having the secure foundation of health care for citizens is unthinkable to anyone we have discussed this with. In the legal realm, I found the inheritance laws in Belgium goofy; a parent can’t write their kid out of the will. Maybe kids in the U.S. are brats and parents need more choice?

Helping out on the farm! Thanks for the amazing hospitality, Trudi and Jim.

Brushing Babette, the world’s nicest donkey. Thanks for the amazing hospitality, Trudi and Jim.

We bid farewell to our friends – why doesn’t it ever get easier? – and rode SE through Belgium toward Luxembourg (here’s the map of our route). Europe responded with a record-breaking heat wave where the thermometer rose as if attached to a hot air balloon and days blurred to a haze of 95 degrees and 80% humidity that felt like riding in a sauna. We pedaled past wheat and corn friends interspersed with grazing cattle. Very few people in northern Europe use air conditioning, so refuge proved elusive. Instead, we soaked our jerseys and hair as often as possible (a feeling better than eating dopamine-laced raspberry sorbet), then rejoined the fray. Cold showers at night were divine.

Sunrise start in Belgium

Following the famously difficult Tour of Flanders route, we bounced our way over the gamut of road surfaces – I’ll admit to cursing the sadists who marked “bike route” for one cobblestone-hell-path. Next up were the hills of the Belgian Ardennes region, site of the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. I couldn’t begin to imagine how terrifying traveling through would be with howitzers lobbing explosives in my path. The serene villages and bustling markets felt a world apart from that chaos as we crossed onto the smooth country roads of Luxembourg.

Behind us was hard work and heat, but also delicious chocolate and great new friends. Inside my head were memories of laughs around meals and a welcome so warm any traveler would feel at home.

Bike touring England

A colorful vegan meal at the Bruges vegetarian restaurant "De Bron."

A colorful vegan meal at the Bruges vegetarian restaurant “De Bron.”

The nice part about hills is that there's always a downhill side. Here's a nice Dutch couple on a tandem ripping downhill in Chelsea's wake.

The nice part about hills is that there’s always a downhill side. Here’s a nice Dutch couple on a tandem ripping downhill in Chelsea’s wake.

Mirrors in Belgium

England to Holland By Bike (and a Ferry)

Middelburg, Holland

Traveling by bicycle is a surefire way to create delicious highs, but also generate lows that drag along like a heavy anvil. And just as night needs the sun to tip its rays over the horizon line every morning, bliss shines brightest after hard work and challenge.

We were not blessed by fair-natured weather fairies the last few days. England almost left us with only memories of sunshine, but rallied to serve up a surprise whopper of a rainstorm minutes away from the ferry terminal, our rain gear buried in our bags. Wet as muddy dogs in a puddle (but considerably less happy), we dripped our way into a restaurant overlooking a choppy North Sea. Two full dinners later (plus lots of cups of tea), a wave of cheer washed over me as I looked east across the Channel toward Holland, our next destination.

Tea time

Revived and happy, we pedaled our bikes into the hold of a gleaming ship, a 13-deck giant complete with a multiple restaurants, private lounges, a gambling hall, and enough foreign languages spoken by passengers to rival the floor of the United Nations. Our cozy cabin for the overnight trip featured bunk beds, shiny accents, and, we learned the next morning, a loudspeaker whistling a cheery rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as a wake up call. A Dutch voice then told us, in politically correct terms, that all passengers should rouse their lazy butts and “prepare to disembark.”

I'M ON A BOAT!

I’M ON A BOAT!

We emerged from the ship for European Union passport control by amiable Dutch border guards. “How many days will you be here?” 88. “Do you have enough money?” I sure hope so! Tick tick tick – our 90 day time limit in the Schengen Zone began. (U.S. citizens can only stay for 90 out of 180 days.)

And we were off…straight into the maw of a raging downpour. Not fazed at all, the unassailable Dutch were out en masse in packs of riders cranking around the best network of cycling paths I have ever seen. Cars, obviously second-class citizens next to bicycles, drove slowly and yielded to us at roundabouts, a nice change from England.

Holland flowers

It’s not just a myth: EVERYONE in Holland rides bikes. From kiddos to people in their 80’s, people get around on bicycles. We saw everything from carbon racers to clunkers, but the majority of bikes were practical and designed for comfort. (The flat terrain makes that a bit more doable, I think.) E-bikes are common, which I think is a terrific way to stay active, and also a great way to make me and Chelsea feel weak and slow when we’re passed uphill by a zippy senior laden with groceries. Stores have two cars and 58 bikes parked out front, and train stations have literally hundreds of bikes stored outside. It was clear that cycling in Holland is the linchpin for a healthy, connected way of life.

Quintessential Holland

Bike parking in Holland

Back on the bikes, our weather-beaten spirits rose skyward as we spun through pretty canal towns. Europe’s architecture practically emits a cozy glow to warm even the most sodden traveler, and (again) hot coffee and tea over lunch did the trick. The next 30 miles included a short ferry ride and riding past tall wind turbines that slashed the sky as headwinds insisted we were going the wrong direction. Ah, some days just aren’t the best for cycling.

Wind turbines in Holland

Our route south through Holland followed the 2015 Tour de France Route, which kicks off July 4th.

Our route south through Holland followed the 2015 Tour de France Route, which kicks off July 4th. I totally got 1st place in the prelude!

One of the perks of renting out our house and working while I travel is that we have zero guilt about staying in a hotel when the weather is horrible or if we want a comfortable night’s stay. Chelsea is the resident genius at finding fantastic accommodations at bargain prices, whereas I will try to save $5 to stay in a dingy former brothel next to a freeway. (She has, shall we say, better attention to detail than I do.) For the remainder of this trip, and possibly our lives, I will handle navigation and she will handle lodging.

For our first night in Holland, she scored a gorgeous room at the Grand Hotel in Burgh-Haamstede. After being devoured by the elements all day, we relaxed tired muscles in the steam room, made fools of ourselves in the pool, and were reminded once again that the magic of bliss lies in the contrast between ups and downs.

The next day’s forecast called for downpours, but not enough to drown out hot beverages, solid exercise, and gorgeous architecture. It was certainly insufficient to snuff out the joy of taking each day as it comes, whether a sparkling moment in the sun or a rain-soaked hour in the saddle.

Grand Hotel Burgh-Haamstede

Chelsea in front of the Grand Hotel.

Holland countryside

Friendly sheep in Middelburg

Well hello, random flock of sheep in the middle of a city…

Pudding Wine? I’ll Just Have the Chips, Thanks

Tree-lined pathI’ve never had trouble ordering a drink before. Then I went to England.

“I’ll have a water,” I told my server at a London restaurant. He stared at me as if I were speaking a dialect of Baboon. “Wa-ter,” I repeated. He shook his head, sorry to be dealing with someone so incredibly stupid.

Two more tries, both of us 100% certain the other was a bleeding idiot. Then, he got it. “Oh, woh-tuh!”

If there is one experience so far that sums up the difference between England and the U.S., that almost-fail of a drink order is it. You see, I’ve found most things are similar to back home, but all experiences contain a slight tweak.

Tweaks like smaller vehicle exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this pathway is too narrow...

Tweaks like smaller vehicle-exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this is too narrow…

 

There’s the language, which is the “same,” yet totally different. Speed bumps are “humped crossings” (giggle) or “sleeping policeman,” as a speeding taxi driver told us. Pants are underwear, and trousers are pants. (I still haven’t figured out which to wear as an exterior layer.) Courgette is zucchini, aubergine is eggplant, and “the dog’s bollocks” means “that is the shit.” Pudding is dessert, as in “pudding wine” for a sweet finish to a meal. And while we’re talking about food, all lodging features hot water boilers for tea, but never coffee makers.

As you may know, everyone drives on the left side of the road in England. Easy enough, right? Well, this is terrifying on a bike and makes me feel hunted at traffic intersections. I carefully look both ways, but fully expect a vehicle to drop out of the sky and crush me nonetheless. Roundabouts replace stop sign intersections and act as slingshots for the vehicles that gun through them like rocket ships trying to escape a planet’s pull.

Fields and paths

Luckily, most of our days are spent on car-free paths like this.

Away from cities, bike lanes and the national cycling network make for quiet, scenic riding. Compared to touring in the U.S., equivalent mileage takes much longer here. In the States, we might follow one or two quiet highways all day, which allowed for consistent pedaling. Route finding is tougher here, with dozens of tricky turns to navigate. Beyond that, the riding is slower through gated fields, bumpy canal walkways with ancient bridges, and gravel paths in the middle of nowhere. It’s a shift in mentality to ride fewer miles, but we’re handling it nicely so far.

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

Slightly random, but I am impressed by the ADA accessibility. Most toilets (as bathrooms are called) are designed to accommodate wheelchairs, with low sinks and plentiful grab handles. Hand dryers also replace paper towels. It’s as if the country is designed for the least physically capable. Perhaps I’m reading into it, but to me that’s a representation of England’s willingness to take care of society’s fringes, whether through welfare, medical care, or something as simple as a handle to assist getting off the can.

Tipping is also different. It’s rarely done, and then only at nice restaurants of the type we aren’t allowed to patronize in full spandex cycling garb. I think the lack of tips explains why bartenders will kick people out at exactly closing time. A British woman told us that servers and salespeople in the U.S. felt overly saccharine and helpful; to us, the distant, pre-occupied employees seem almost rude. I should also point out that tipping is unrelated to, “no fly tipping,” which means “don’t dump your junky furniture in this field.” (In the U.S., the sign would say “no illegal dumping.”)

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan's wedding to his beautiful and oh-so-nice new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts!) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan’s wedding to his lovely new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our surprise attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts to hide it from Ryan.) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

People still live in houses. Except here in England, many residences are OLD. Like, built-800-years-ago old. People who visit the U.S. marvel at the shiny, big, and new; we are struck by the quaint and ancient. Pedaling along country lanes past stone fences laid centuries ago, bouncing over cobblestones in a tiny village, or enjoying a chai in a market square (every city we’ve seen has a walking-only central shopping district), we are struck by how present history is here versus covered by “progress.” Back home on the west coast, old is 120 years. Here, that’s scarcely a blip on time’s fickle radar. When a gravestone laments the death of someone who died from The Black Plague, that is old.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

It feels good to be bike touring! Assembling the trip and traveling abroad was exhausting, but jet lag’s gloomy mist has cleared and our brain’s are working again. I am quite relaxed compared to last year when we pushed hard on the bikes and threw down mileage every day. We smile and laugh at town names like “Leighton Buzzard” or “Heath and Reach” and take each day as a fresh adventure. Less mileage means the slower going is fine, a nice treat.

Bridges and canals

In fact, we decided to kick back for an impromptu birthday stop today at That Amazing Place, a 1000 year-old monastery turned B&B. I could wax poetic about this divine location for a full paragraph, but suffice to say it features both a custom-built obstacle course AND complimentary wine refills while relaxing in the hot tub with a view of the English countryside. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 33rd birthday! (Unfortunately, I missed the obstacle course record by a bit. I must be getting old.)

In two days, we’ll roll the bikes aboard a night ferry on England’s east coast. The next morning, we’ll wake up in Holland and wheel south toward Belgium. And that’s what makes Europe the dog’s bollocks: each country is a short hop (or pedal) away, yet represents a new language, fresh customs, and a totally different experience. I may continue to have issues ordering drinks, but at least we’ll be back on the right (excuse me, correct) side of road soon.

Back windows

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced "Bister").

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced “Bister”).

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

Bikes, Europe, Go!

Bike tour Europe

Our latest trip has me excited, and also thinking about time zones. It’s a strange neurosis.

As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane across the Atlantic Ocean while Chelsea snoozes at my side. Tired travelers shift in their chairs around me, struggling to make the seven hour flight passably comfortable. According to the plane’s flight tracker, it’s -55 degrees outside with a 75 mph tailwind as we pass south of Greenland.

Three weeks ago, I was mountain biking in Santa Cruz. Our summer plan was in place: another few weeks in California, then motoring north to the Pacific Northwest for sunshine in the forest. It was nice to have plans…and then we scrapped them! A day later, we bought plane tickets and changed direction completely.

The new plan? A 3.5 month bike tour in Europe. Fly into London to surprise a friend at his pre-wedding party (only his fiance knows to expect us). Pedal for a few months. Fly out of Prague to attend wedding festivities at a farm sanctuary near New York City. In between the nuptials, there’s no set route and no plans except to explore, enjoy, and spin on as many no-car bike paths as possible.

This tour is going to be different than last year’s U.S. jaunt. For one, the distance is shorter – it’s barely 1,000 miles from London to Prague – which allows us to meander. We did that much mileage in just Montana during our bike ride to Maine last year! We could scorch through 1,000 miles in a few weeks and still have ample time to linger in French cafes and perfect the jaunty angle of a beret. Instead of cranking out miles every day, our goal this year is to linger in areas we love, keep our daily mileage below 50, and treat this less as a physical challenge than an exploration of culture and beautiful places.

We talked through this trip last fall when we were stoked and physically strong from 4,000 miles of bike touring. By the end, however, the logistics of 101 days of touring had drained our energy and we were tapped out like sugar maples after a long season. We needed to just hang out awhile, and planning a European tour was too much at the time. As we left for our Utah jaunt in March, we told ourselves that the one thing we wouldn’t do this summer would be a bike tour in Europe.

Whaaaat shall we bring for 3.5 months of biking, camping, and looking hawt in cafes? Can't believe all this stuff fits in four panniers!

Whaaaat shall we bring for 3.5 months of biking, camping, and looking hawt in cafes? Can’t believe all this stuff fits in four panniers!

Still, the time is never right for a big trip overseas. I could conjure excuses for a decade about why doing this another year makes more sense. First and foremost, my business is cranked to the max right and taking a lot of my time. I will also be dealing with being nine hours ahead. At 5 pm European time, the west coast of the U.S. is just sitting down with their coffee to check Facebook and their morning emails. At midnight, it’s lights out here and merely mid-afternoon back home.

I’m leery of handling this, but confident it will work out. I’ve learned that a strong foundation sometimes only imparts enough of a launch pad to let me stand in one place and dream. To attach wings to a dreams requires wrapping uncertainty in a fiery bear hug and jumping into the deep end with it. When I look back, anything that excited and scared me, even as I sprang off the diving board, invariably resulted in my learning something about myself or the world. Sometimes there’s wreckage to pick through, a burning heap of a failed attempt, but that’s usually not the case. I’m not setting out to build a new enterprise – I simply need to take my tried and true remote work techniques to a new level.

There’s magic in pushing the envelope into discomfort. While I’m wary of the lug nuts on my business loosening and a wheel or two clunking off into the dust, what this is going to do is force me to innovate. The simple aspects of my work will be easiest to outsource; it’s the functions that I think (pretend?) are unique to me that will take creative engineering. But the more I think about having the entire day free to just ride and explore, with work starting up in the evening, the better it sounds. There are always silver linings.

Taking the bikes apart to box and ship them through on the plane. SCARY.

Taking the bikes apart to box and ship them through on the plane. Thanks for the help, Steve!

The worst case is posting up in a town and simply working remotely late at night all summer. The best case (my favorite) is that we have an amazing time exploring the European continent on a relaxed schedule and, as a side benefit, further extricate myself from the day-to-day mechanics of my business. With a bucket list that includes many off-the-grid adventures with weeks away from a cell connection or a laptop, I need systems in place to take care of this. Nothing like a fire under my arse to accomplish it.

More updates to come as we wheel our way east across the continent. Cheers to no plan, the unexpected, and the network of bike paths that apparently crisscross this area of the world. Follow along with daily shots on Instagram (@traipsingabout) and I’ll also be updating this blog as time allows (and this trip map). This latest adventure is officially launched!

P.S. If you have recommendations for places to visit or have friends we could meet up with, let us know! We’d love your input.

Happy Wife, Happy Life – Keeping It Together On the Road

Columbia River Gorge in the fog

Some people get cranky when they’re hungry. I summon NARG.

NARG is an ugly, surly monster. He lacks empathy or logic and excels at blaming. Slumbering most of the time, this Creature From the A-Hole Lagoon climbs out of the depths and controls my being when my stomach grumbles too long.

Chelsea created this all-caps creation to separate the venomous devil of a cranky person from her usual (awesome, sweet, playful…HA) husband. That raging maniac telling her she’s the hungry one? That’s just NARG, not her husband. Feed the slavering beast and I return to Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde’s shadow disappearing into the foggy swamp.

Along with keeping me fed and subduing my alter-ego, we have a few other coping mechanisms for traveling together. You might wonder how our marriage survived eight months in 75 square feet of a camper van, not to mention weathered the 4,000 mile bike tour last summer without the van. It’s a good question, as I seldom write about our travel ethos or discuss practical advice regarding surviving (enjoying!) our travels.

Well, I’ll say this: there were no pre-established ground rules. They evolved. Slowly, in some cases, and immediately in others, usually after I was overly controlling and tried to tell my (always stubborn) wife what to do. Some practices evolved via discussion, others from necessity. It’s still a work in progress.

It's all about balance!

It’s all about balance! Chelsea and our friend Brooke demonstrating perfect form on a hike in the mossy Oregon coast range.

 

To wit (I’ve always wanted to write that): we recently did an excellent interview over lunch with my friend J.D. Roth, founder of the popular finance site Get Rich Slowly. The interview discusses many of our thoughts and philosophies related to staying sane and happy while exploring the world together, with ideas that apply to any kind of travel, whether by van, plane or bicycle. The discussion began because J.D. is about to launch on a long RV trip around the U.S. and is interviewing inspiring people along the way. I’m honored to be included.

We talked about many things, but one of my favorite quotes from our chat came from Chelsea. It totally sums up our current approach to travel (and life, for that matter). “I guess the bottom line is to be easy-going and adaptable,” she said. “When you’re nomadic, you’re open to serendipity. It permeates your whole life. You find yourself saying ‘yes’ a lot more. It’s a very ‘yes’ experience.”

When NARG isn't around, C and I get along. :) Here we're enjoying a walk on the Oregon beach. Always sunny in the NW!

When NARG isn’t around, C and I get along. Here we’re enjoying a walk on the Oregon beach. Always sunny in the NW! (Photo courtesy of Nicole B.)