The Spirit of Bike Touring 5

Camping at Morro Bay State Park
I thought I’d change my pace here and write about something that has been on my mind recently. I want to talk about the true spirit of bike touring. Yes, there is a spirit of bike touring that needs to be addressed, especially for people who are very new to the experience. From the outside, people see the excitement, the fun, and the beauty, but from the inside, bike touring is a much deeper activity that only some bike tourists truly understand.

The Goal is the Journey

Often times, people who plan bike tours focus so much on their single goal of getting somewhere. All their efforts are spent researching and planning to get to wherever that sacred destination is. They do so with such tunnel vision that they speed through the most important part of the trip: the journey.

In reality, the memories of a bike tour are rarely the destination. That is only a small part of everything. The true goal of a bike tour should be shifted to the journey. That is, taking the time to meander through the small towns or spin slowly up the terrain and admire the landscape that is around you even though your body is being tested with every pedal stroke.

Most memories are conceived from side stories through experiences that come from the journey, whether it is just a day trip or a multi-year marathon. Having a great journey should be everyone’s number 1 goal. That is what counts when you think back on a trip.
Leaves in the Hoh Rainforest

Be Present

Another side-effect of planning for the destination is you are thinking about the future. You are anxiously waiting for that trip and hope that nothing bad happens. Many fail to notice what is happening now. What is your state of mind? Are you getting enough sleep now? Have you drunk enough water? Have you stopped enough to sight-see? Are you having fun, now?

What’s even worse than looking forward to the future is looking back in the past with regrets. Have you had moments of regret about not stopping at that vista for a quick glance of the beautiful painted landscape? I have certainly had my share of these regrets.

Now, when I go on bike tours, I try to be in the moment and allow myself to enjoy every step of the way. The more I live in the now, the less regrets I have about my trip.

The activity that makes things easy for me to be in the present is my daily meditation practice. I meditate both when I am at home or when I am in my tent on the road. This allows me to check-in and make sure that I am focusing on the now. My mind does wonder both forward and backward, but meditation helps me explore those moments during a dedicated time period and then reminds me to appreciate the now.
Sunrise Lake Quinault

Beauty is in the Details

When I was riding down the Pacific Coast last year with my Adventure Cycling tour, there was a lady named Cathy who would tell me of all the beauty she saw during the day. She would happily point out all the different edible wild mushrooms out there and why they were not ready for picking and eating. She would find trinkets and money on the side of the road because she paid attention to the details while she was spinning at 10 miles per hour into camp.

In that same tour, there was another gentleman named Stephen who would arrive towards the end of the riding day. He may have been slower than many of the people in the group, but his stories were the best. He had taken the time to be part of his stories. He immersed himself with the people and his environment to allow his stories to come to him. The faster riders did not have as much to say besides how great the camp showers are or where they had lunch. Many (including myself) zoomed past an experience that we didn’t even know of until Stephen told us at the end of the day.

I can only hope with age, I can still bike like both Cathy and Stephen and be intentional, to be in the moment, remembering the details and sharing them with my fellow travelers either in person or on this blog.

Stephen & Johnny

Riding with Stephen

Slow Down

Many new riders who have been biking all their lives, either at a competitive level or toured fully supported, are usually the people who I feel don’t understand the spirit of a bike tour. In a group, they are the ones that will politely stay pace with you and eventually as the ride continues on, they will peel off on their own into camp. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that because every rider is different. I respect that. But I feel that they are missing out on the details by not slowing down.

Seriously. Slow down.

Maybe a more productive recommendation for those who just started bike touring or are thinking about bike touring is to be intentional on their next ride, whether it is on a tour or not. Take the long way around. Stop and look around. Have you given thanks to the beauty that is around you? Are you thankful for the smooth roads we ride on or the incredible view on top of a tough climb?

Let’s take some time and slow down a bit. The destination will always be there, but you may not be back at that same location in your lifetime, so choose to linger.

Johnny at Bixby Bridge

Johnny at Bixby Bridge

Final Thoughts

Is there something I’m missing here? Are you one of these riders that speeds along and collect miles? If so, I would like to hear why you’re always on the move.

Let me know if you also subscribe to my travel philosophy. I’d like to hear what other advantages there are to slowing things down and why you do so. What will even be better is if you were one of those that sped through tours and have since slowed it down. I would love to hear what made you slow things down and how has this impacted your bicycle tour.

About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He's also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association's Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.

5 thoughts on “The Spirit of Bike Touring

  • john collins

    My first couple of tours I mapped out with 60-80 miles per day. It’s very doable, but found that I didn’t take many images. Now I try to keep daily mileage to 40-50 and keep a daily journal. Thanks for your good work.

    • Johnny Lam Post author

      @John Thanks for sharing your own experience. It’s funny how mileage per day has an interesting correlation with the amount of photos you take. Very good point here.

  • Jim Bangs

    Hi Johnny,
    I was a little like John. I would plan out 60 to 80 miles days for a tour. Sometimes I would ride myself to the point of exhaustion that I struggle to have energy in the evening to eat. I slapped my forehead “how stupid was that??” Now I try to limit my miles to the 30 to 50 range. I am still working which means my tours right now are jambed into a two week vacation window. I would get over ambitious and over plan on the goals of getting point A to B. I really want to do an open-ended tour when I retire. Really no end date or ride hard to catch a plane to get back home to get to work. Your blog here is a great reminder to stop and look around, shake hands and meet people. What tour on bicycle should be about.
    Good post, thanks for sharing
    Jim Bangs

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