My very first bike tour: A comedy of errors

I was curled up in my chair, watching the flames flicker in our wood stove, and I got lost in my thoughts. As the flames flickered, I drifted back through the years and I started thinking about my very first bike tour.

cycling in nepal

After my first tour, it took me several years head back out for another tour – that time I rode from Norfolk, Virginia to New Orleans. A few years later, I took off to spend a year cycling in Asia. This photo is me in southern Nepal.

That first tour I took – I hesitate to even call it a tour – it was really more of a comedy of errors than anything else – but it was start, and I was so proud!

Way back in the early 1980s, I came up with the cockananny idea of traveling on my bike. I had no gear other than a bike and a sleeping bag, but that didn’t stop me. A quick trip to my local K-Mart solved the problem of no rack to put things on and an hour later I was beaming. My mechanical prowess had paid off! I had somehow managed to mount that contraption on my bike.

My gear found its way into a myriad of plastic bags which then were tied and bungeed onto the rack and I was off. Off on a grand adventure! I must have looked like the quintessential bag lady.

My destination was simple – a dam 100 miles from Boise. It sounded like a good idea at the time. The way I figured it, I would pedal fifty miles per day, making a four-day trip. Sounded perfect for the novice I was. I kissed my mom goodbye, promised to call home every day, and set off to find my rainbow.

Five miles from home I almost crashed; something was throwing my bike terribly off. Maybe my mechanical prowess wasn’t as good as I had imagined it to be… It didn’t take long before I discovered a screw had fallen out of my $5 rack.

I found a stick to fit through the holes and continued on my way. Three miles later my stick broke and the rack wobbled dangerously. I replaced it with another. And then another. And another….

Fifty miles went by quickly – fifty miles of sugar beet fields. And cornfields. And onion fields. And broken screw-sticks. I started looking for a place to sleep, but sleeping in some farmer’s field wasn’t an option I considered at the time. Ten more miles went by – ten miles of sugar beets. And another ten miles of onions. I was getting tired. I wanted to stop, but the farms showed no signs of letting up.

98 miles from home (and countless broken sticks) I finally found a spot. In retrospect, it was perfect – a flat grassy spot right next to a meandering creek.

How young and naive I was! I know now that nobody knew I was there. And even if they had known, nobody would have cared.

But at the time, all I could think was, “What if?” What if someone saw me come back off the road? What if someone knew I was camped there? What if someone came back here in the middle of the night? I wasn’t the least bit concerned about being attacked. Or robbed. Or raped.

My greatest nightmare was that someone would come and tell me I couldn’t camp there, and I would be forced to climb back on that god-forsaken bicycle again. I lay there all night long, sure that every passing car was bringing that person who would kick me out. And I didn’t sleep a wink.

I was up and out as the first rays of the sun graced the earth with their presence – eager to escape my torture chamber. I pedaled away … and found a wonderful little campground with a hot spring-fed pool a mere two miles down the road. If only I had consulted my map I would have known that.

I still marvel at the fact that I made it back home in one piece and that I’ve toured many miles since that day, but I learned a lot from that trip. I learned that a good rack is essential. I learned that panniers are a better option than plastic bags. And I learned that it is helpful to consult a map every once in a while.

In many ways things haven’t changed at all. I am still footloose and fancy free. I’m still out chasing rainbows. And the magic of bicycling hasn’t diminished one bit.


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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8 Responses to My very first bike tour: A comedy of errors

  1. Wilma Hatcher April 8, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    Experience is still the best teacher. Reminds me of a trip I took with my daughter and six week old grandson. We left Germany one night at 8:00, drove across France to Calais with nothing more than a AAA map I had from the US. God was very good to us as we wound our way through those dark French towns where there were no lights and we didn’t even see a dog. We made it to the ferry at 4:00 am and then to UK where we wanted to see my son who was on a mission trip in Kent. Took us all day trying to find him. I have always been a planner, but I was such a risk taker on that trip. I learned so manny lessons that night!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel April 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

      @Wilma Hatcher, Sounds like one heck of a trip! You learn WAY more from things going wrong than you ever do from when they go right. I saw that with the kids’ robot. One thing after another after another went wrong, so they were constantly analyzing it and troubleshooting. They learned more from that than if it had worked perfectly!

  2. Val in Real Life April 10, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Thanks for sharing Nancy! We all have to start somewhere… no way around the learning curve. This is such a great example of getting started and sticking with it. -V

  3. Barbara Weibel April 16, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Great story Nancy, and a good example of “if I knew then what I know now”.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel April 17, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

      @Barbara Weibel, It’s funny how that happens, eh? We look back on it and think, “Wow.That would have been so very different if I had known…”

  4. wandering educators April 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    love this. oh how young we were, yes? but that idealism and striving is a GOOD thing. as is experience, which we are always gaining. 🙂


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