Thoughts from Time on the Road

September 21, 2017 - Jenn Milyko is Adventure Cycling's Routes & Mapping Assistant Director.

Photo by Tammy Schurr
Sid Voss and I pedaling down the Paul Bunyan Trail near Nisswa, Minnesota.

This past summer, I had the great good fortune to be out riding my bike on a nearly 2,000-mile trip. I took in parts of our Northern Tier, North Lakes, and Lake Erie Connector routes.

Photo by Jennifer Milyko
A little hot food at Ricky’s Diner in Bridgton, Maine makes even a rainy day a little sunnier.

I will admit right up front, I am ridiculously fortunate to be surrounded by people who support the idea of me as a bicycle traveler. Chief among my support team is the Adventure Cycling organization as a whole and as my employer. Besides affording me the time off, I felt comfortable leaving my desk and tasks in the capable hands of my coworkers. It was rather easy to turn off my work email and focus on the traveling tasks at hand.

Photo by Jennifer Milyko
Right on the St. Clair River, this campsite in St. Clair, Ontario ranks as one of my favorites.

I could not fully appreciate what it takes to pedal off on a journey of this length until I decided to actually undertake one myself. In my 16 plus years as a cartographer here, I have read many blogs and spoken to many bicycle travelers, but it just doesn’t quite settle into the bones the way riding day in and day out does. And wow, there are a lot of things to consider!

Photo by Jennifer Milyko
For much of the first part of my trip, rain, ranging from drizzle to severe, dogged me daily.

As a solo traveler the logistics fell on my shoulders alone. While I discovered I was quite competent to handle these things, I was exhausted at the end of the day. It was not only the exertion of riding, but also the strategizing about food and overnights, watching the weather, finding and following my route, and general worrying hanging over me on a regular basis. It took a couple weeks for my body to let go of the resistance to my new routine. In just under 2,000 miles of riding, my brain never did quite stop the constant calculating of distance to the next potential food stop or overnight.

Photo by Jennifer Milyko
Wildflowers flanked the roads most every day. This variety was particularly plentiful. 

On the plus side, I saw wildflowers nearly every day from Maine to Minnesota. I survived almost daily rain through the first two thirds of my trip. I met trail angels at all the right times. I proved my ability to figure things out on the fly. I exercised my spontaneity muscles often. I was more lonely than I expected, and yet I felt more supported over those weeks than ever before. I would do some things differently, and I would say “yes” to this adventure again in a heartbeat.

Photo by Glen Pawelski
My good friend Glen drove up from Madison, Wisconsin to camp with me one night. He brought stories, laughter, and good food, and beer!

I learned so much while on the road, I imagine I’ll be reflecting on these thoughts for quite some time. Heck, they will probably creep into casual conversations over the course of my lifetime. I will focus on some of the work-related ones here over the next several months, while they are still fresh.

Photo by Jennifer Milyko
Coffee and a pair of Pop Tarts: the perfect match for reflecting on a journey.

In future posts, I will address issues of navigation via paper and electronics, the use of Warmshowers, traveling solo vs. in a group, food as fuel, and route planning. If there is something else you’d like to know about, leave a comment below. Or in lieu of that, share a lesson you learned while traveling by bicycle this summer.

Photo 1 by Tammy Schurr | Photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 by Jennifer Milyko | Photo 6 by Glen Pawelski

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GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Milyko, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.

Comments

Morrie Portnoff

As a fellow cartographer (now graphic designer/digital printer) I would like to know how you handle the battery demands of electronic navigation. What apps do you use and do you rely on downloaded base maps or use data while riding. Also did you stay in campsites or look for free sites to sleeps?

September 21, 2017, 6:14 AM
Reply
Jennifer H Milyko

Hi Morrie,

It's nice to hear from a fellow cartographer!

I dealt with keeping a charge by putting my phone in Airplane Mode except when I needed it to have a connection. This meant I needed to recharge less often. I also carried an external battery for those nights when I didn't have electricity.

I navigated with paper maps when possible only checking my phone to confirm my location. I used both RideWithGPS and Google Maps for electronic navigation when I didn't follow an Adventure Cycling route. As I recall, I used both of these apps in Airplane Mode after loading/viewing my route when connected.

I didn't stealth camp at all. I stayed in city/county/state parks, commercial campgrounds and with Warmshowers hosts along with sporadic hotels.

I will talk about each of these more in future posts.

Jennifer

September 21, 2017, 9:10 AM
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Randy Carey

Jenn, I met you fortuitously at the Sunrise Cafe the morning you were heading to Dalbo, MN and preparing to connect with Sid. I enjoyed sharing a conversation over breakfast and learning a bit about your work and travel experiences. That chance meeting was one of the highlights of my summer rides. I'll keep watching with interest for your posts.

September 21, 2017, 9:10 AM
Reply
Jennifer H Milyko

HI Randy!

I remember you! And the diner we ate in...it was the only one I encountered that did not have a vegetable omelet on the menu. Thankfully the hash browns were good and filling. I hope your ride that day was great. I seem to recall it felt ambitious to me, 100 miles or something like that. =) Pedal on!

September 21, 2017, 10:45 AM
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Gerry LaPlante

Enjoyed reading a bit about your summer cycling trip! You are very right when you expect that your experiences will stay with you for a lifetime. Experiences from my own cross-country trip (2009) pop into my mind every time I am on my bike (or when I read or hear about experiences of others, like you). They do creep into my casual conversations often, and, even, after eight years, my family and friends still tolerate it.

I look forward to reading your future posts.

September 23, 2017, 10:20 AM
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Heidi

Curious if you encountered any times where you felt threatened or unsafe. I know you aren't the first woman to ride an extended tour solo but I plan to after I retire and am considering doing as a solo. How did you prepare for what you may have considered what could happen?

October 15, 2017, 6:18 PM
Reply
Jennifer H Milyko

Hi Heidi,

I only had one time I felt unsafe. I was to camp in a small town in Michigan and I just had a bad feeling from the moment I rode into town. I pedaled a few miles farther down the road and found a better situation. I would say for the most part though, people were curious and/or simply wanted to help.

I had intended to take a self defense course before I left and didn't get around to it. I never found myself in a situation where I needed it, either. I would say being aware of your surroundings and moving on when things don't feel right is a big part of the equation. As is exuding confidence about your abilities, your destination (or a story you are good at telling about the day's end) and being clear about what you need will do a lot to promote your safety.

I intend to write more about touring solo vs with others in future blog posts. Thanks for asking your question.

Jenn

October 16, 2017, 6:44 AM
Reply
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