Today’s guest post is from fellow blogger Matt Gibson. Although he make a few bike touring mistakes and had to abandon his bike tour, I give him all kinds of kudos for getting out there!
In June of 2011 I decided to do my first long-distance bicycle tour. Although I had little experience with multi-day trips, I had competed in a few Olympic-distance triathlons and ridden as far as 80km in a day, so I thought that I was pretty well prepared.
And I was pretty well prepared — but not well enough.
My plan was to cycle from Vancouver (in southwestern BC) to my hometown of Cranbrook (in southeastern BC), a trip of about 1000 km across mountainous southern British Columbia.
I didn’t make it. By the time that I arrived in Kelowna, the halfway point, my knees were so sore and swollen that I had to stop. This had nothing to do with me having weak knees or poor physical fitness and had everything to do with my lack of planning and cycling experience. I made three mistakes that caused my first bike tour to come to an early end.
1. I Didn’t Know My Equipment
This admittedly wasn’t really my fault, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.
I had taken the bus to Vancouver and spent a few days with my cousin. Two days before I was set to leave my bicycle lock was cut and my bike was stolen. I had two days to replace my bike. My budget was $100. So, Craigslist shopping I went.
I found a decent bike — a Norco hybrid. It was a bit heavy, but was comfortable and had relatively thin tires, so I thought it would be appropriate for the journey. It wasn’t until later, on the road, that I found out it wasn’t.
My bike was designed for sitting upright while riding, rather than hunched over. This meant that my legs were moving in a drastically different range of motion than on my previous bike. They were unaccustomed to it. Under normal circumstances, this is a small inconvenience. On a big trip when you’re pedaling thousands of strokes each day, it can take a toll on your joints.
2. I Didn’t Know My Route
I had driven from Vancouver to Cranbrook numerous times in the past, so I thought I knew the route I would cycle fairly well. I was wrong.
A cyclist needs to consider a lot factors that a driver does not. Cyclists will prefer to take smaller, secondary highways than eight-lane freeways. They also need to consider the hills involved. That’s where I got myself into trouble.
I’d hoped to make it from Vancouver to Hope on the first day. I would then take the Coquihalla Highway north towards Merritt. I didn’t make it to Hope, though, and camped about 20 km out of town and hoped I’d be able to make up the distance the following day.
When I rolled into Hope in the morning I went to the tourism office. It was lucky that I did. The man behind the counter strongly advised against riding the Coquihalla as it’s very busy and the shoulder is very narrow. He told me that I should instead take the smaller Highway 3 to the south.
Riding the Coquihalla involves a very long climb. Highway 3, as I learned, actually crosses one of the highest passes in Western Canada. The grade is so steep that truckers frequently have to pull over to allow their engines to cool.
That is not something one should be doing on the second day of their first long-distance cycling tour. So, I headed out of town and went a bit up the pass before setting up camp, planning to tackle it in the morning.
3. I Didn’t Listen to My Body
Climbing Allison Pass on my creaky Norco while pulling a trailer is probably the hardest physical exertion I’ve performed in my life. It felt comparable to running a marathon (which did once).
The air was cold, but I was sweating. After several hours of riding in the cold air my chest began to hurt. I don’t know why, but it was so bad that I had to stop several times. After that I covered up, slowed down, and took regular breaks. I was relieved when I finally passed the summit and made it to a hostel.
I had pushed my body harder than was wise — especially so early in the trip. The following day, however, I pressed on, covering about 80 km. The day after that, I was about 130 km from my aunt’s house in Oliver. I decided to put in a long day, push through, and rest at my aunt’s.
I made it to my aunt’s house OK. But, in the following days my legs were stiff and my knees were sore. I rested for three days and then hit the road again. Within a few hours my knees were so swollen and sore that I could barely push down the pedal.
I was finished.
Don’t Do What I Did
With some very basic planning and a bit of common sense, this disaster could have been avoided and I could have finished my trip. Before you hop on a bike for a long-distance trip, my advice to you is:
1. Make sure you’re accustomed to and comfortable with your equipment.
2. Plan your route in advance and, for the love of God, check for thousands-of-meters-high mountain passes.
3. If you feel any pain at all, rest. Don’t try to make up lost time. Keep a pace you know you can maintain.
This guest post is by freelance adventure travel writer, photographer, and blogger Matt Gibson. For more Matt Gibson adventure travel goodness, check out his adventure travel blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account. If nothing else, you should definitely download his free e-book Five Adventure Photoessays.