By Nancy Ziegler — What Is it like for me to bicycle tour? I become totally immersed in the journey. Every part of my body is performing. My body sets a rhythm that moves me forward. I am aware of every feature of every bit of pavement over which I move. My brain is totally “on”. I am listening to every subtle change of sound that registers in my brain. I hear the variations of the sounds of vehicles approaching from behind. My body adjusts and prepares for the passing of the vehicle. Is it a school bus, a semi, a slow-moving car or truck, a souped-up car? Sometimes, I know it is roaring down the road far too close to me.
What is absolutely most frightening is when an oncoming car does not see me and passes a slower moving vehicle in its lane. I bale! That is, I hit the gravel on the side of the road. In those circumstances, the driver usually notices me at the last second and swerves back into the other lane. By that time, my adrenaline has peaked, and I am thanking God I was not hit.
Then, I move along. Yes, there by the grace of God go I. I smell the different livestock on those large farms. I enjoy the peacefulness of watching animals quietly graze in green pastures. I see and smell plants growing, blooming. I love the smell of the wet earth after a rain storm. Oh, those rain storms that come on the winds of huge, dark, foreboding storm fronts. It is great to have those winds push me along on my journey. The phenomenal layering of steel grey clouds threatening, getting ever closer. I pedal hard and fast, hoping I will reach my destination before the lightening, thunder and rain hits.
And, when the rain comes there is always the gamble of when to stop to put on the rain gear. Oftentimes, I optimistically wait just a little too long. That means wet clothing. If it is warm, that’s okay. There have been many times when I go into a restaurant with water dripping off me. I quietly shed the rain gear. I take napkins and clean up dripping water. I put my feet up on the chair opposite me and let my legs relax while I gather the warmth of the room. I am re-energized after some food and rest. Hopefully, the rain has stopped, and I am ready to move on.
There is an energy, a joy that fills me when I re-count my cycling day. I see something in my mind that opens up an incredible horizon of the beauty of this earth. It is when I am by myself, rolling through the country. It is when I am away from the urban world, away from the barrage of our media.
Hills? Yes, they exist. I just downshift and climb. I move at a slower pace, but the rhythm is continuous. I have certain tunes I always sing when climbing. Sometimes I say repetitive prayers that are my “hill climbing” mantra. How funny?
I imagine most folks would assume flying down hills is absolutely great. Sometimes yes, sometimes, no. If the pavement is smooth and straight and not too steep, it is great. Most of the time, there are patched spots, or holes, or curves or possible other vehicles on that downhill. Applying the pumping action of breaking is very tiring on the hands. “Heads up!” I say. Keep alert.
I come across some very interesting sites along my routes. I am able to check on some needed information using a smartphone, but some of the richness of the journey comes from interacting with local folks. They are often curious. I almost always have a friendly smile to offer. I often get good directions of local roads and their conditions. The GPS doesn’t give me what someone who travels the back roads every day can give me.
When all is said and done, the whole experience of solo bike touring fills my whole being like no other experience. I am still able to do it after 45 years of touring. I need to lessen my miles. I need to stretch before and after I ride. I need to rest and let my body re-energize. A good night of sleep in my tent is perfect for that.
I have the stars and moon in my eyes. I bicycle and am alive.
Nancy Ziegler is a retired high school teacher living in Duluth, Minnesota. She took her first self-contained bicycle tour in 1974 through the Canadian Rockies and down into Glacier National Park.