I started bike touring as a way to see our country at a more relaxed pace. I have always enjoyed camping and thought it would be fun to pursue that goal by bike.
Wandering aimlessly on my bike does not appeal to me, so I developed a theme for my, usually, solo unsupported tours. I would visit all of Minnesota’s State Parks by bike. I didn’t work on this plan every year but after about 15 years I had visited every Minnesota State Park.
I have used other guides for route planning including:
The phone app “ParkAdvisor” does a fairly good job (although not perfect) of identifying North American campgrounds, as well
In planning my routes, I start by assuming I can bike 500 miles a week. I try to make loops that have a bailout option (short cut) in case things don’t go as planned. I learned that the 70 miles per day on mostly flat ground in Minnesota is conservative for me but I still use 500 miles per week as a starting point. Your mileage may vary. it is your tour - plan for distances you deem appropriate.
Other things to consider on your tour:
- bike choice
- panniers vs trailer
- camping or motel
- unsupported (solo or group) or sag wagon
- tools to carry
- spare parts
- cook your own meals or café
A dissertation could be written on each topic, but I’ll share a story about food. When I first started touring I carried my own food and cooking utensils. It’s less expensive and you always have food, but preparing meals and the space/weight of food and utensils are a disadvantage. I eventually scuttled my plans of carrying my own food thanks to run-ins with ever-present raccoons.
The final straw came during one trip to a State Park along the Minnesota River. I knew I was in raccoon country so I decided to store my food as if I was camped next to a den of bears and used the recommendations for bear-proofing your camp. There was a perfect tree in my campsite - I hung my food bag ten feet above the ground, six feet from the trunk and three feet below the horizontal branch I chose.
That night, I was awoken by a raccoon sniffing outside my tent. I dressed and went outside to scare them away. When I shined my flashlight, I saw a family of raccoons (8 to 12) gathered under my food pack. The biggest raccoon I had ever seen was sitting directly under the pack with most of the others nearby. They all were looking intently at my pack above them. I pointed my flashlight in the direction of their stare and was shocked to see two baby sized raccoons up there. One had already climbed down the rope holding my food pack in the air and was sitting on my pack attempting to break into it with its razor-sharp claws. The other was in the process of shimmying down the rope to join in the criminal activity.
I threw a pine cone at the branch above the descending raccoon. I startled it and it lost its grip. The would-be thief fell about ten feet, knocking the wind out of it but it walked off. I picked up another pine cone and threw it at my food pack. That got the other one’s attention and after a few more throws it jumped/ fell to the ground. The family waddled off but just before they were out of flashlight range the big one turned around and stared at me as if to say “This isn’t over.” I knew they would wait me out. Rather than fighting a losing battle I put my food pack inside an outhouse for the rest of the night. Now I opt to eat at restaurants, convenience stores or grocery stores.
I have heard all sorts of reasons to not go on an unsupported bike tour but the bottom line is all you really need is a desire for challenging new adventures, a joy of camping, a love of bikes and the ability to fix a flat tire.
The author, Steve Chatterton, off on one of his many bike touring adventures.