Since returning from the tour I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about it, especially when I’ve been out riding. This tour was the longest one I’ve done to date in both time and miles and in many ways I considered it a sort of benchmark for future touring related activities. When I did my first tour up in the San Juan and Gulf Islands around day 11 I recall becoming pretty despondent with the solo touring experience. I enjoyed my days but when I’d get to camp at night I’d wish I wasn’t on my own. On that tour, done in the spring, I’d rarely encounter anyone at the campsites and it was a quite solitary experience. At the time I felt that if I’d done it for perhaps another week I’d break through that sense of loneliness. This tour would test that, but also my endurance over that length of time.
It turned out that the further south I went the more people I encountered also doing some or all of the Pacific Coast tour. You’d get in sync with people and see them every evening at the campsites. Some campsites had 12 or more other touring cyclists in them and the hiker/biker areas would be pretty crowded. As with any group of people, some you were happy to see each evening, others not so much. So I never did get that sense of loneliness I did in the Gulf Islands, but I also wasn’t really getting the solitude that I did crave. I’d say since the Island Tour in 2004 that I actually have come to crave that solitude more and that by changing my touring style so that I was spending more time in cafes, pubs and restaurants had probably solved desires for company. What did happen on this tour was that I became rather impatient with certain types of bicycle tourists. Running into other tourons on my previous tours had been such a rarity, such a novelty that I tended to welcome it. On this tour, especially going from the hiker/biker sites it was a constant and some of these people certainly didn’t tour for the same reasons I do. I won’t speculate on their motivations but I’ve made a stab at why I tour, one that I’ve quoted a number of times:
People engage in Cycle tourism for a variety of reasons, from an excuse to ride all day every day, to sightseeing, to meeting new people, to a love of travel at a reasonable pace. For me, while all those reasons are a component, the primary interest is contemplation. Keeping to a reasonable pace it is easy to allow ones thoughts the freedom to roam further then even a bicycle can take you. With so much time all aspects of your life can be examined and meditated upon. There is a kind of alienation to the solo trip, but a unique kind of insight as well. Traveling through communities one is the perennial stranger, but at bicycle speed you see things that even the most hardened local will not be aware of. It is easy to feel more and more separated from the rest of humanity as your pace and goals become so different. People in general surround themselves with distractions; be they work, family or entertainment. As you cycle every day your distractions become very narrow: the world around you, your routines of camp, the few books you have with you. Car culture and its inherent impatience seem more and more insane and the destruction of the nature that you spend so much time in more and more horrific. One’s priorities shift and it can be difficult to remember that you yourself are on vacation from the traditional lifestyle and will be returning to it in some capacity. The true value of the tour will be in how these lessons and observations change the life you return to.
(originally written here)
The riding each day kept this quality and I was always enjoying it – the scenery was fantastic pretty much everywhere, the riding satisfying and rarely a slog, there was lots of neat things to see from historical places to quaint little towns. But I began to somewhat not look forward to arriving in camp. I can pinpoint exactly when this feeling began, it was right after the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California. This was the first campsite was was rather limited in space and quite packed with tourons. From here on out this would be the standard experience, even when riding further to other campsites that weren’t the specified destination in the guidebook. I like to have space and to be able to get away a little bit at camp and I think that it was simply the crowded conditions that made me not really look forward to the camping part of the day. I began to try to get to camp fairly early to try to stake out a good spot which meant I wasn’t always lingering as much as I should. I don’t want to belabor this, as for the most part as soon as I’d leave camp I was right back in my normal mode, but this was an aspect that I can’t deny. The very last campsite, Bodega Dunes, it somewhat came to a head as there were many tourons there, many in the “tour rat” vein that I mentioned before and I pretty much decided to not camp the next day and pushed through to SF. I appreciated the extra day in the city so this was fine for the most part, but I was really sick of camping at that point.
So what does that bode for future, possibly longer trips? Well I’m not entirely sure. I’ve always intended to do a cross country tour at some point which would be three to four times as long (75-100 days seems about typical) so could I do it? I think I learned a lot from this trip about what I’d have to do different in order to do such a trip. I took a rest day every week, in general riding 6 days and taking one off. In a cross country trip I think one would want to preserve that, but I think stay in a hotel on that rest day. Also the taking an occasional two day “weekend” rest would probably be smart. This would break up the camping a bit more, get one out of the “pack” you are with and allow for a different kind of rest. I’m also not entirely sure if there had been a lot less people if I’d have burnt out on the camping experience. On a cross country trek I kind of suspect you’d see a lot less people. Especially since there really is only one route down the Pacific Coast but many ways across the US and people tend to go both ways ( on the PCT North to South is the preferred direction I met maybe a half dozen people total doing South to North). Running into people less frequently would I think make meeting them a pleasure, at least that’s how I experienced it before. Let me again stress here that most of my fellow tourons were great people and there was a number of them that I was happy to see each night. It was more the crowding I think, if I hadn’t done the hiker/biker sites it probably also wouldn’t be an issue. Of course most campsites were full by the time I arrived so it was really the only option. This of course is another option I think: wild camping on some nights, staying in normal campsites on others. WA/OR/CA are pretty much the only places with the H/B sites so this point might be moot anyway.
The other thing was that I have a lot of interests: music, art, reading, film, etc., and most of these were rather neglected on tour. Having the iPhone helped a lot, I kept up with certain other interests as I went along and never felt completely disconnected from the communities I was part of (I should stress that I was as connected as I wanted to be, which was at a pretty low level. I don’t need to escape from everything on these trips, but I want to escape a lot). I also would check out art galleries as I’d go and I caught a few movies too. I did get a lot of reading done, that certainly is not an interest one has to forgo on a bicycle tour. Music of course is a major passion of mine and that definitely was neglected the most. I had a lot of albums on my iPhone, though I infrequently dipped into them, it is more seeing live music and playing music that fall by the wayside. I think on a longer tour I’d bring some sort of instrument with me, though that could certainly be unneighborly. Seeing live music, especially the more abstract things that I like is just not going to be a common occurrence on these sorts of trips. In the main I think this is survivable though, I’ve been known to go months between shows in dry seasons at home. Ultimately I think its being part of an active community that I began to miss: the art openings, the concerts, meeting up with people at events, etc. The traveler is never truly a part of anything, always a stranger, always just an observer, never a committed participant. Even those who throw themselves into the places they are in, they are never really a part of it. For after the festival, or fair, or even just day at the park/beach/what have you, everyone else stays and lives the day to day while you just move on. Everything is a mystery to the traveler, which is part of the appeal of course, but there is also a pleasure of knowing what things are and being a part of them.
If you read through all my blog entries on this tour I tended to focus on the riding, the incredible sights and the good camaraderie that I did have. In the main this was my experience and I post the above to outline some of the other things I felt, experienced and thought about. I think about this as touring is an activity I love but it is not without its trials: nothing is constantly a good time, in fact if it isn’t somewhat mixed as an experience I’d wager it pretty much isn’t a good time. As should be obvious I think about this in context of further touring, which clearly I intend to keep up. I also focused on the mental issues in this post, as all things considered I had very little issues with gear, the route, the bicycle and such. Every tour though I try new things and see how established things work in different circumstances, so I’ll cover that aspect in a future post.