Not everyone has a solid group of bike touring friends. In fact, I don’t think any one of my friends even knows what bike touring is. I first heard of the term after reading Jedidiah Jenkins’s book To Shake the Sleeping Self. Reading his adventures of riding from Oregon to Patagonia had me completely inspired to do something new and out of my comfort zone.
Then I met a patient at the hospital where I work who inspired me in other ways. Every day she rode to and from her chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her reasoning was simple: “It makes me happy. All good things in my life have come from bikes.”
I was fascinated by how this two-wheeled contraption could create so much joy in different people for completely different reasons. When I decided I was ready to embark on my first bike tour, the easy parts were doing the research, planning the route, and buying the necessary gear. The hard part was finding someone to do it with me.
I began by searching my phone contacts. I asked some friends who shared in my love of the outdoors and exploring new places. No luck. The most frequent responses I received were people telling me I was crazy, that it was a stupid idea for a vacation, or that I was in over my head. While I’m not easily discouraged, the constant rejection was a bit demoralizing.
After spending a few weeks asking around, I thought of one more person who might be interested. It was a guy I met in Switzerland when I took a solo trip to Europe a few years ago. He was also traveling alone, and we met at our hostel. We ended up doing some epic hikes together in the Swiss Alps that were some of the best experiences of my life. We kept in touch but never saw each other again. I figured it was worth a shot. I sent him a message asking if he’d be interested in a bike tour from Missoula to Jackson Hole. His response: “I don’t have a bike, and what’s a bike tour?”
That same week, I stumbled upon Adventure Cycling’s Companions Wanted. I scrolled through to find that most people were doing trips way above what I felt my experience level at the time could handle. I was hoping to plan a trip that was two to three weeks, but it seemed like most of the posts were generally three months or more.
I was nervous to write a post, like I was putting myself out there on a dating app. I worried people would laugh at my measly idea of a tour. Ironically, while I was intimidated by Companions Wanted posts for its 3,000-mile rides, my friends thought I was completely out of my mind for wanting to ride 500 miles.
I bit the bullet and wrote a post, explaining my plan to complete Section Four and part of Section Five of the TransAmerica Trail. I’d begin in Missoula, Montana, and end the trip with Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I made sure to preface that I was a beginner.
I received a response three days later from a 19-year-old college student. She had completed four bike tours, one of which included South Carolina to Los Angeles in 42 days. She explained that the trip, timing, and mileage were exactly what she was looking for. Not to mention, she was happy to share her love and knowledge of bike touring with a novice like me.
Things were looking up. I had one successful recruit for the trip simply by typing up a short post that I was almost too intimidated to write.
That same day, about a week after I had last talked to my Swiss Alps hiking buddy, I received an unexpected text from him. “Hey. I bought a bike. I’m in.”
I couldn’t believe it. So now it was really happening. No turning back.
I arranged for the three of us to meet via Zoom. Before the group meeting, I figured I should do a little more research on our route. It was a rude awakening when I realized it wouldn’t be a ride in the park, if you will.
Mountain passes? I don’t even know what mountains are here in Pennsylvania.
It could snow in June?! I thought this was summer …
Fifty miles with nothing but cows and grass? We are definitely not in Philadelphia anymore.
My carbon fiber racing bike can carry all my gear, right?
What did I get myself into?
I was completely terrified. But an even more terrifying thought was letting down my newfound bike mates. I couldn’t quit now, no matter how scared I was. Then again, that’s the power of community and accountability.
Fast forward past this panic: it was time to craft a solid plan. I ordered the TransAm maps, used Komoot to more easily track our daily mileage and elevation gain, and made frequent trips to REI. I even called Adventure Cycling headquarters several times with questions, where I spoke to the same man each time. Although I’m sure he didn’t recognize my voice (or maybe I hoped he didn’t), his voice became a source of relief to all of my anxious thoughts.
When the day finally came to depart for the trip, I felt much more relaxed than I believed possible. Rich, Lyric, and I met in the Missoula airport. It was the first time the three of us had ever been together, but we had an instant connection. In many ways we were completely different. Lyric is a college student studying film. She’s a creative free spirit, still figuring out her place in the world but unafraid to leave her comfort zone in her search. Rich is a 52-year-old web designer. He is intellectual, methodical, and inquisitive. And I’m a 27-year-old occupational therapist, the planner of the group, and cautiously adventurous in that I can do anything or go anywhere as long as it’s strategized. We were different but now so much the same, connected by our one goal: to tour 500 miles self-supported.
The trip ended up being absolutely everything I could have imagined and more. The vast landscape of green valleys surrounded by snowcapped mountains was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The small towns each had their own personalities, like Virginia City, for example. It was a ghost town where gold was struck in the late 1800s that brought us right back into the Wild West. The mountain passes, though excruciatingly difficult to climb in 90°F heat, led to the most magnificent descents I’ve ever experienced. The people we met — locals, Warmshowers hosts, and fellow cyclists — showed nothing but kindness and hospitality throughout our entire trip.
Of course, problems arose throughout the vacation. Bikes being lost in the airport, our Pocket Rocket stove breaking at dinner time, 30 MPH headwinds kicking in mid-ride, and encounters with wildlife to name a few. But everything that we faced, we got through it together. We were three strangers now forever connected by an unforgettable trip.
My suggestion for anyone new to bike touring or just lacking adventure buddies: don’t get discouraged. There are thousands of people out there willing to adventure with you. You just have to find them. Companions Wanted is an amazing resource for this. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You may end up having the trip of your life by connecting with the least likely cycling partners.