Every time the Adventure Cycling catalog arrives at my house, I sit down, flip it open to the centerfold, and stare. It’s a map of the United States, laced with bold, brightly colored lines. These lines are bike routes. I trace them with my fingers, imagining the feel of the wind in Nevada, the glint of waves off the coast of Oregon. Maybe in Maine, I could meet a moose! And in Louisiana, a crayfish lording over its mudball castle! By the time I close the catalog, my whole body is kind of jittery. I bounce through the rest of my day, imagining the possibilities. I could bike anywhere!
Over the last fifteen years I’ve been lucky to go on lots of long bike trips, and each one has started in the same place: my imagination. Imagination is a vast realm of spark and sparkle. If you can see yourself pedaling away, cackling into the wind, then you’re one step closer to actually doing it.
Look at a map, read some stories from Adventure Cycling's blog, check out some pictures, and imagine yourself pedaling. What will it feel like to ride over a mist-shrouded mountain? Or roll through the sunshine on a cheerful urban bike path? Are you eating cookies? Or picking blueberries off a roadside bush? Once the wheels of your imagination are spinning, you’re already getting somewhere.
After you’ve spent a while playing with the reality of infinite possibility, it’s time to point yourself in a clear direction. Which specific bike trip fills you with genuine excitement? A weekend trip around town with your best friend? An epic ride across the entire United States? A family adventure on a rail trail?
Everyone’s idea of “an exciting trip” is a little different. My own measure of an exciting trip is to answer the question, “If I fail at this, will I still be happy that I tried?” If the answer is yes, it’s probably worth pursuing. If not, I need to choose something else.
A great adventure is one that aligns with the core of what’s important to you as a person. It touches on something special, vibrant, and alive inside you that longs to be fulfilled. That’s why it feels exciting when you choose to do it! And even if things don’t go exactly as planned (spoiler alert: they rarely do) it will still be a great adventure, because it’s the path you chose from your heart.
Well, there’s always something to stop you! Maybe there are several things, or a whole pile. Whatever they are, write them down. Maybe you want to pedal across Montana but you’re afraid bears will steal your snacks. Maybe you want to bike across town but prefer to go with a friend and you don’t have one yet. Maybe you don’t have time off from work right now. Maybe you don’t have a bike. It’s okay! Just add it to the list!
Once you have a list, you can relax because you’ve already achieved something great: you’ve identified exactly what’s stopping you from doing the thing you want to do. Now the ball is in your court.
Title your list “Problems to Solve!!!” And then take a look at each item. For each thing on your list, write down five solutions. If you don’t have any solutions, write down five next steps to find a solution. If you can’t think of any next steps, poke around the Adventure Cycling website. Chances are, there’s a blog on there to help you out. If there isn’t, please add your “problem to solve” in a comment below, and I’ll see if I can help you out.
Okay, you’ve played with possibilities, pointed yourself in a direction, and identified and removed some barriers. Now you can start to really plan!
I am generally terrible at planning and tend to wait until the last minute to do it, which is why many of my trips are very awkward. You can avoid this awkwardness by reading and following The Adventure Cycling Guide to Planning Your Bicycle Adventure which is a very useful and thorough guide to all the big and little things you need to plan. Seriously: all you need is this guide.
I recommend making sure all the biggest parts of your plan make sense before you worry about the little things. The big parts are things like getting a bike that works for your route, identifying your timeframe, and creating a budget. These are the things that need to get sorted out or the trip just won’t happen. The little things—like deciding what shirt to pack or knowing what you will eat on day five—can wait until the big stuff is done.
Once the big pieces of your adventure puzzle are in place, you can think about the wiggly little details. The Adventure Cycling Guide to Planning Your Bicycle Adventure includes resources, lists, and links which will help you get into the nitty gritty of everything you need for your trip.
For whatever reason, little things tend to be very overwhelming for me. It’s just that sometimes there’s a lot of them! When I feel overwhelmed by all the little things that I don’t know how to do, I stop, take a big breath, and start singing my favorite song, which is just the words “DON’T PANIC, I DON’T NEED TO PANIC…”, over and over again in an angelic soprano. I’m not kidding. Everyone who knows me, knows this song, and in the days leading up to a big trip I sometimes catch my friends humming the tune. It makes me happy to know they are not panicking.
It’s normal to get a little anxious when you’re setting out on something you’ve never done before. I’ve spent roughly a quarter of my adult life on wayward trips to far flung places, living in my tent, figuring it out as I go. And I STILL have to sing the “Don’t Panic” song every time I pack. I’ve come to terms with it. I hope you will too.
I don’t know what this is like for other people, but I know what it’s like for me: as soon as I get on my bike and start pedaling, everything feels right and makes perfect sense. I pedal and breathe. I feel healthy. I feel free. And I thank my former self and all the people who endured and supported me, for all the strange steps and wild ideas that it took to get me out here, doing what I love.
Winter is the perfect time to sit back with a cup of tea and plan the bike trip of your dreams. And who knows? Once you plan it, you might really go. And if you aren't feeling up to planning and organizing your own tour, that's ok! Adventure Cycling offers many guided tours, including some educational tours meant to give you the knowledge and confidence to travel by bike.