Just Do It – Advice from Five Women Bike Tourers

By Lou Melini

How do you go from riding a bike around town, to venturing off on a bike packed with all of your necessities, for periods of time ranging from 3-weeks to 3-months. The following women have each done multiple tours in various parts of the United States and abroad. For obvious reasons, most women long-distance bike tourers are either before or after child rearing. These women range from the mid 40’s to mid 60’s. A high degree of athleticism isn’t needed, as they will all tell you it is about desire, attitude and learning a few basics from easily obtainable sources.

Cheryl Soshnik, who I consider the true Queen of bike touring, completed her first major tour (Minnesota to Newfoundland) in 1975, the same year I rode across the U.S. Barb Hanson and Angie Vincent ventured into bike touring in the past few years. Both completed cross-country tours in 2009. Lucy Ormond joined Barb in her cross-country trek after taking a 20-year break from her last bike tour. Julie Melini has three 1500-mile bike tours to her credit over the past 5 years.

Cycling Utah: One of the first questions one gets asked to bicycle tourists is what bike do you ride; so what brand of bike do you each ride?

Cheryl Soshnik: I ride a Co-Motion Americano with S & S couplers for traveling.

Barb Hansen: I also have a Co-Motion but the Nor’wester model also with S & S couplers. It is the smallest stock size they make.

Julie Melini: I use a Waterford custom, the T-14 touring model. It has an identical paint job to your Waterford Adventure Bike.

Lucy Ormond: I have a Bike Friday

Angie Vincent: I have a Jamis Aurora and my husband uses an REI Randonee.

Cycling Utah: What was your first bike tour like? How did it happen?

Cheryl Soshnik: A lot of my friends did bike touring through the Minnesota Rovers Outing Club. So the Minnesota to Newfoundland trip seemed natural given the environment of friends. I bicycled 6-weeks and 2500-miles for my honeymoon. We averaged 70-miles/day. I made my own panniers, cooked on a sterno stove and used a tube tent. It rained for 5 of the 6 weeks, but we were in love so it didn’t matter.

Lucy Ormond: I did a week-long 300-mile bike tour in Southern Utah when I was 45. Elliot Mott put together a bike tour and invited me along. What could go wrong on the first day did go wrong. I tipped over after putting my panniers on backwards, I pedaled 50 miles uphill into a wind blowing sand into my teeth, got a flat, and had my brakes rubbing for the last 25 miles. Fortunately there were 8 others to help out and kept me going.

Barb Hanson: Cheryl took me on my first self-supported bike tour in 2007. It was 150-miles over 4 days plus a day for hiking in the Grand Canyon.

Angie Vincent: I did an overnight bike tour to Rockcliff State Recreation campground in 2007. You (Lou), Cheryl, and Ron Wheeler put this together to introduce others to bike touring. It was a lot of fun.

Julie Melini: I (well we) went on a bike tour in 1983. The weather suddenly became extremely hot so we only did 2 of the 5 days we had planned. My being 5 months pregnant also didn’t help. That was your fault.:)

C.U. What have you accomplished since that first tour? Which was the most memorable?

Cheryl: I did a 6 week tour of Tasmania early in 2009 with my travel companion Randy. I’ve done 2-months in New Zealand (twice), 6-weeks in Ireland, twice to France, Italy once, plus a bunch of 1-2 week tours in the U.S. over the years. The Ireland trip was the best.

Lucy: Barb and I did 3,725-mile tour across the northern U.S. in 2009. This is the most memorable ride.

Barb.: I’ve done a total of 4 tours. I went with Zig Sondelski from San Diego to Phoenix in 2008 (Zig then rode solo to Jacksonville, Florida). [Editor’s Note: see our August 2009 issue online for a story of that tour] I also did the 3-month trip with Lucy. The 3-month trip is my favorite, with more trips to come!

Angie: My husband and I rode to Savannah, Georgia from Salt Lake City in 2009, our longest and best tour.

Julie: After our youngest boy graduated High School in 2004, I’ve done three 3-week trips, plus several shorter trips 2-9 days in length. The first 3-week trips took me up to Montana and back to SLC. I circled the state of Wisconsin on my 2nd tour and last year did 1600 miles around the state of Washington. They were all great trips. The Montana trip was my first long tour so there was the excitement of that and Wisconsin gave me a perspective of my home state that I hadn’t seen before.

C.U.: Was there anything that helped you go from short tours to extended tours? What were some of the sources for your best advice?

Lucy and Barb: Your seminar at REI on self-contained bike touring really helped. You gave a lot of things to think about regarding clothing and equipment (everything should have 2 purposes), travel companions, tire selection, etc. Also using Crazyguyonabike.com for travel advice and opinions helped with route planning and other details of our trip.

Angie: The overnight trip to Rockcliff really helped. I got to see what others did, and I got a feel for traveling on my bike. There are numerous books and websites as well that helped with our planning of the longer tour.

Cheryl: Most helpful tips came from other cyclists. I used WarmShowers (warmshowers.org) to ask about local riding advice that was very helpful for my Tasmania trip. Adventure Cycling (Adventurecycling.org) has a really good advice section for touring.

Julie: With each tour, I learn more and more. Nothing beats just going out and doing it. Of course it helps to have someone close that loves to bike tour and does a lot of the initial planning. But I feel more comfortable doing my share now.

C.U.: Do you have any advice for other women who wish to bike tour?

Julie: If you wish to bike tour, Just Do It! Do an overnight ride or several. Get a bike that fits and is comfortable including a women’s specific saddle. Go with someone who has similar expectations during the tour. Plan a few less miles than you can actually do just in case you have to go further than planned. You don’t need to be in super athletic shape, just be fit enough to get through the first week then increase your mileage. Be comfortable with your tour. For some camping doesn’t work, for me hotel rooms are claustrophobic. Also if you travel as a couple, use a 3-person tent. The extra weight is insignificant on a bike, and you will appreciate the extra room.

Barb: The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tire recommendation was the best advice I received. I had no flats due to the tires, though I had a couple due to my carelessness. Try to keep the weight of your equipment down and try to have items that serve more than one purpose. Talk to people who have done tours, read crazyguyonabike.com, and check out gear lists.

Angie: Think of a long bike tour as a series of back-to-back 4-day tours. We carry basically the same things for 4 days as we do for 3 weeks. We may tweak the equipment a little depending on the time of the year or the potential need to filter water. Also be flexible with how far you travel each day, when and where to stop, whether you cook or eat out or camp or stay in a motel

As Barb mentioned earlier, good tires to reduce maintenance worries, but you should take a short course in basic bike mechanics

Lucy: Carry a compass and be able to read a map. Don’t be afraid to ask directions. Be sure you bike is not too big for you. The Bike Friday I have works great.

No offense Lou, but ask other women questions. Women bike tourists see things differently when on a tour. I focused on the flowers, birds, wildlife, scenery and the people to meet along the way. Most men were focused on the destination, how fast they could ride and the number of miles. Also I know you and Julie cook in camp mostly, but I sent my stove home. I carried food I could eat cold, ate at deli’s, grocery stores, McDonalds, the town diner or in the homes of people we met.

Cheryl: There are many resources to communicate with others in the area you are planning to tour. (Warmshowers.com, Crazyguyonabike.com, Adventurecycling.com blogs) Don’t be afraid to contact people in the area you are planning to tour to get up-to-date information. In addition you will receive a lot of invitations for places to stay. I highly recommend joining Warmshowers.

C.U.: What is the ideal group size for you?

Cheryl: If you do long tours that are spontaneous and without a lot of detailed planning, then 2 people max. With 2 people I have found that there is always room at backpacker hostels or pretty much anywhere. With every person you add, you are adding one more opinion and compromise and perhaps conflict. If you have places to stay arranged ahead of time, the size is not such an issue. I’ve done two southern Utah rides with 14 people on one of the trips without problems.

Angie: I have a “built-in group”- my husband. I do like to meet up with others at the end of the day to talk about the experiences of that day. In general, the ideal size would depend on the duration and schedule of the trip. I think the longer the trip you should think having fewer people. On our trip to Savannah, we tended to make decisions and changes almost daily. I’ve gone on awesome trips with about 20 others, but we had a schedule with all stops decided upon up front.

Julie: I like touring with one other person, and as Angie said, I have my touring partner. As Cheryl said, with each additional person you spend more time deciding about going sightseeing, where to eat out, or what to cook on the stove, how far to ride, etc.

C.U.: Have you ever done supported tours either commercial or with a group where the gear is carried? Do you prefer to be self-supported and why?

Cheryl: I have done several, but they weren’t very satisfying. These are not “bike tours” in my mind. With self-supported tours there is the adventure of new things and meeting lots of interesting people. It’s also an inexpensive holiday.

Angie: I enjoy both. On commercial trips I get to meet new people but you are not sure who the players are until the start. I love self-supported trips because I’m usually not on a time schedule and can go at my own pace. On our trip to Savannah we changed our schedule and route numerous times from advice we received from bike shops along the way.

Julie: I did the White Rim trail through the Bonneville Cycling Club. It was nice not to have to worry about finding water. I may want to do a European commercial tour to help with the language issues. But overall I prefer the flexibility of the self-supported tour. We are always changing our plans based on how we feel nearly every day.

Barb: I enjoyed the commercial tours, but I started thinking how much fun it would be to be able to stray from the route if you found something interesting you wanted to see or stay longer somewhere to explore. You can’t do that if you have an agenda to keep with a commercial group.

Lucy: I have done numerous commercial tours. I have even organized and lead numerous tours in the Southern National Parks. I do like the luxury of having my stuff carried but I don’t care for the herd mentality. Self-contained tours give me the total freedom of decision-making and the rush of not knowing where I’m going to sleep at night.

C.U.: What are the logistics of your tour? How much camping did you do? What are some of the costs?

Barb: We did our 3-month tour to be comfortable and not cheap. We did a month of motels, a month of camping and a month of staying in homes. I spent $3800-4000 including airfare to Seattle and home from Maine. So my expenses worked out to less than $40/day for the bike tour less airfare.

Julie: On our 3 week trips we do almost all camping in commercial campgrounds mainly for the showers. A few times we’ve been invited into homes, and occasionally we will stay in a motel due to heavy rain or if no campgrounds are available. We cook in camp mostly, but try for breakfast in diners once in a while. We like it simple, so for the 2 of us we have done trips from $33 to $47/day.

Angie: We were on vacation so we averaged $76 per day. We stayed in motels for 15 days (20% of the total trip) and 10 days in people’s home. Most of the cost is due to eating out in diners the whole time but it was a lot of fun to meet the locals.

C.U.: Has bike touring changed your life?

Cheryl: I think ANY potential vacation as a biking opportunity!

Barb: I’m hooked. I found out I could do some things I never thought I could do! It really helped my confidence level.

Lucy: Last summer’s tour across America was life changing. “Living a life of simplicity and peace within” is now my mantra.

Angie: Self-supported touring has definitely given me self-assurance that I can do anything. It’s a great sense of accomplishment when you plan and execute a trip. You can take the time to truly enjoy the beauty and vastness of the world around you. I met so many wonderful people. Having our bikes loaded up would be an open invitation for people to stop and talk to us.

Julie: It has given me a sense of accomplishment. It has also been very good for my (our) marriage, time alone without lots of interruptions; e-mail, phones or commitments.

C.U.: So what is next?

Cheryl: I’m mulling over a new week-long trip in Southern Utah for this Spring or Fall. I’d like to go back to Europe. I have some ideas for a Scotland-Wales-England tour as well as Eastern Europe. The dollar-euro exchange rate may have to be more favorable before I go to Europe however.

Angie: Vince and I will begin a trip in San Francisco and end in Salt Lake City that will “officially” complete our trans-continental ride.

Julie: For 2010, we will just do a very short tour, as we do backpacking trips on the even years. In 2011 we will do another 3-week bike tour, perhaps in Wyoming.

Barb: New Zealand from January 25th to March 20th. Short trips after that as my daughter has house sat and tended my cats for my tours is going back to Seattle.

Lucy: Watch for me coming through Salt Lake City in the spring from my home in Southern Utah. I will be doing the Little Red Riding Hood ride and the Diabetes Tour-de-Cure before heading further north.

Touring Note: The 4th annual overnight bike ride to Rock Cliff Recreation area will be held on June 12 & 13. For information contact Lou Melini [email protected]

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