“I’m tired, Mom,” Daryl mumbled as we pedaled a remote Oregonian highway. “I want to sleep.”
“I’m sleepy too,” Davy added.
John and I figured the boys were just whining – they were eight years old, after all. We figured once we arrived at a town park the boys would be off and running, because… well, that’s what kids do.
An hour later, we pedaled into town, and shortly thereafter arrived at the park with a fabulous playground teeming with kids. We parked our bikes, and John and I found a nice bench to sit on where we could watch our kids play.
The boys took one look at the playground, and another look at our laps. Davy crawled into my lap, Daryl crawled into John’s, and they both passed out. Thirty minutes later, both boys were still sound asleep.
“What are we going to do?” John asked.
“I think we need to let them sleep,” I replied. “I guess they really were tired.”
We pulled out our sleeping pads, and gently laid the kids down. Four hours later, they finally woke up.
Finding our pace
John and I, as we watched our children sleep in that park, realized that our pace was not realistic. Prior to leaving, John had insisted that we needed to average 50 miles per day. AVERAGE. In other words, if we took a day off, we needed to do a century to make up for it. As John put it, “It’s not even worth going if we’re going to ride less than fifty miles per day.”
But now, three weeks in, we realized that fifty miles per day was too much for us. I was exhausted. John complained of the knife blade digging into his shoulders. The boys were being pushed way too hard. This was simply not doable – for us.
We faced a choice that day. We could either revamp our expectations, or call it quits. We could hang on to that random number John had pulled out of thin air, continue to push ourselves beyond our capacity, and eventually burn out, or we could change our expectations.
Over time, we discovered that for us, a workable pace was 30 – 50 mile days, with at least every fourth day off. Preferably, we kept the mileage on the lower side of that range, and we took even more days off. That worked for us.
What’s your pace?
Regardless of how you are traveling, you’ll need to figure out your pace. Are you heading out on a bike tour? Hiking the Appalachian Trail? Or the Camino de Santiago? Or are you heading out for a round-the-world trip to experience the wonders of our planet? You’ll need to find your pace.
I know a lot of people who have headed out for long-term travel using various means of transportation. And every single one of them started out too fast.
Know that you will probably do the same.
You’ll know it when it happens, and you’ll face a choice. Call it quits? Or revise expectations? Ultimately, it’s up to you. Avoiding burnout is a challenge, but can be done.
What if there is no choice?
Sometimes, there is no choice. Maybe your visa is running out, or you have to get to a certain place to meet someone. Maybe the seasons are changing, and you’re racing to try to avoid winter. There are reasons for moving quickly – many of them, in fact.
When you’re in that situation, you’ll move fast. That’s okay, just know why. And make sure your kids know why as well.
In general, we traveled slowly. Very, very slowly. There were times, however, when we simply couldn’t. When we first left Alaska, we knew that we had 5000 miles ahead of us that we needed to cover before winter set in. All four of us agreed that we would rather travel fast than to deal with snow.
In Colombia, our visas were about to expire and we needed to get out of the country. That resulted in a mad dash across the country, fighting infection in Davy’s toe. Read the whole story here.
In a perfect world, those mad dashes would never happen, but it’s not a perfect world. Sometimes, we mess up with our planning. Other times, stuff happens. We deal with it, pushing ourselves harder than we want, but as hard as we know we have to.
That’s okay – just don’t plan on that being your long-term strategy.
What about mental burnout?
If you travel long enough, you’ll find yourself in a mental burnout situation. Maybe you’ve been moving slowly, so physically you’re okay, but your brain is on overload.
While I have no scientific studies to back this up, my theory is that our brains can only handle so much. If you’ve been challenged by your surroundings for a while, your brain needs some time to catch up. It needs to process what you’ve learned, figure out a way to make sense of it all, and “clear some space.”
The best way to deal with it is to lock yourself in a hotel room and vegetate. For days, if need be. Give your brain the time it needs, and you’ll be happier for it.
Remember that long term travel is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to see and do everything. Take advantage of the time you have, but don’t burn yourself out to the point where you’re not enjoying it.
Find your pace. You’ll be happy you did.