Author Topic: Riding Solo - what don't people get?  (Read 333 times)

navrig

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Riding Solo - what don't people get?
« on: May 09, 2022, 10:19:24 AM »
I am planning a 4000km across Europe ride next year (my 60th) and when I tell people (family, friends, ex-colleagues) what I am doing the first question is often "Is this part of an organised group?".

My reply is that I am doing this solo and the reactions are generally shock and awe.

Is it that shocking?

I am on a couple of other forums and a couple of cycle tour FB pages and I have noticed quite a few posts asking if someone wants to join another person on a tour.  Someone planning a solo tour but seeking a companion.

To my mind that is a complete lottery as to what sort of person you could end up riding with.  Is it common for strangers to join on a tour?

navrig

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Re: Riding Solo - what don't people get?
« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2022, 10:39:44 AM »
For example I have just seen someone post on FB that they plan to cycle LA to New York and are looking for company.  That's a long journey to spend with someone you don't know.  Obviously if you don't get on you can part company.

mickeg

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Re: Riding Solo - what don't people get?
« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2022, 01:00:05 PM »
Solo.  Not that shocking.

Bike touring does require a lot of skills, not sure how much background you have with camping, campsite cooking, bike repairs, etc.  These activities take some skill that are best learned before your big adventure bike trip.  I have heard of people that almost never camped, never worked on their bike, and decided to do a bike tour.  Sometimes that did not go well.  I did a lot of backpacking, canoe camping, kayak camping, etc., before my first bike tour.  I worked in a bike shop before I went to college and got an engineering degree.  I built up my touring bikes from parts, laced up my own wheels etc.  I am not saying that having these skills is a requirement, but they made my start in bike touring a lot easier.  That said, I found it easier to do my early tours with a friend so we could talk to each other about whatever came to mind.  After several short tours with others, solo touring was pretty easy.

Traveling solo, if you are flexible for schedule, that is great because you do not have to have a meeting with proposed changes.  If it is cold and rainy and you want to check into a nearby hostel instead of camping, no discussion needed, you do it.  If you complain about the food, that is your fault.  You are in charge and if you do not like what the boss did, too bad.

Traveling with a friend, works best if you both are about equal in speed and desires for distance per day, both have similar goals for how much camping vs indoor sleeping.  Advantage is you can share camp chores and other tasks.  The friend that I have done several bike tours with does not like to think about the navigation issues, etc.  This is a bit inconvenient for me, as we travel together because he lacks a GPS.  Thus, he has no clue where we are going.  I do not mind the trip planning and navigation, but it would be nice at times if we both could ride separate.  The group tours I have done with others, it is very common to find most people are riding alone even when they all are in the same group that night in the campsite.

Flying is no fun solo, if you are at an airport and have to go to the loo you are supposed to keep your luggage under control,  etc.  But with a friend you do not even think about how many times one is watching everything while you are off doing your thing.  It is very easy for stupid arguments to start up because there will be disagreements.  The worst argument is how much work the other does and did they do their share.  If you have a goal of doing 20 percent more of the campsite chores and other tasks, then if your travel partner only does 10 percent less than you, you still did less work than you anticipated and have nothing to argue about. 

I am single, no spouse, live alone.  So I am very used to doing my planning for everything solo, so a bike tour to me that is solo just makes sense.  If you live with someone else, when you are off on your own, that will be a culture shock when you are suddenly making all the decisions based solely on what you want or don't want.

Depending on where you are going, security of your gear when you are solo can be much more of a concern than when you have two sets of eyes on everything.  My solo trips were to places where theft is not much of a concern, but I have read of and talked to other bike tourists that have had theft issues cause problems with their trip.  One woman I talked to was on an around the world tour, started in the UK and went east in Europe.  Only a few thousand km after her start, her bike and everything on it was stolen at gunpoint in Eastern Europe.  So, she had to start from scratch, her high end touring bike with the good stuff was gone, so she was riding the rest of her around the world tour on a low budget mountain bike with solid fork.  I met her in my community, I was out on an exercise ride and saw someone riding with a brand of panniers not sold in USA, so I started up a conversation with her.  By now she had made it through asia, flown across the Pacific and was half way across USA.

If you live with a spouse or partner, I suggest you first do a one or two week solo tour near home first.  That way you will understand how to do a solo bike tour and make your decisions solo, something that you are not used to doing. 

List of my tours below.  I wrote this for the benefit of the OP.  I expect others will find this boring, sorry.

I did my first tour about two years before I retired.  Did that with a friend of mine, he sat in the cube next to mine at work, he had done some credit card tours with his brother before.  I wanted to tour with camping, not sleeping indoors each night.  We both worked at the same place, did similar jobs, had a limited number of days of vacation available.  So we did a four day tour, add two days for driving to and from.  Had a great trip, was a new type of experience.

Next tour, we had both retired by then.  I think that was a six day tour, plus two days driving.

Did two guided and fully supported trips in Europe, they provided the bikes, most food, lodging, etc.  Week long.  I do not call this touring, but some people do.  I went solo, some in the group of about 8 to 10 went solo and some with a spouse or partner.

Third tour (or fifth trip if you count the above), I did with Adventure Cycling Assoc.  I am in USA they run a lot of tours.  About a dozen people.  Had a great time, but the food was not very healthy for me being a diabetic.  On this trip, the friend I had toured with before did not attend, so I traveled to and from the start solo, but was with the group for the week long trip.  I hate to go a long way and then rush home right away, so I went there three days in advance, camped in a campground and did sightseeing.

Fourth tour, this was actually the locale that we had talked about first and had started preliminary plans years earlier, but it was far enough away that it was a train ride to and from.  We let a third guy join us.  He was retired, had been a supervisor where we used to work but neither of us knew him from work, but he had crossed the country on his bike with a group and wanted to join us so we let him.  He immediately tried to start changing the plans that we had made a few years earlier.  And he had that supervisor mentality where we were supposed to follow his orders.  Bottom line, none of us enjoyed the trip that much.

Fifth tour, ten of us from my community, most of us knew most of the others in the group hired an outfitting company to haul our gear, food, and water.  And fix our food.  We planned the trip, got the permits, etc.  White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park.  The outfitter was a tour group company but since we did the planning, permitting, and had a guaranteed group size, they charged us about half of the typical cost.

Sixth tour.  With my friend and former co-worker.  Pacific Coast from Astoria Oregon to San Francisco.  Total with travel to and from, and sightseeing time, about five and a half weeks.  Most of it camping in State Parks.  This was our first multi-week tour, but we were both retired do multi-week trips.

Another trip, I won't call it a tour, the former co-worker and I did four nights and five days of mountain biking in a national park, camped at campgrounds that we drove to, so the riding was only carrying our food and water for the day.  Initially we planned to ride the trail with our camping gear but we were there about two hours and the trail was tough, we changed our minds fast to doing car camping instead.  More here:
http://thorncyclesforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=11321.0

Seventh tour.  Solo.  First international tour (not counting the tour group company tours I did in Europe listed above).  First tour I flew to.  Iceland for a month.  Had a great time.  More here:
http://thorncyclesforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=11917.0

Eighth tour, two weeks of biking and some time to get there and home again.  With former co-worker.  Florida in USA, Everglades National Park, Florida Keys.

Ninth tour.  Five days, four nights rode from my home and back with a friend.  I had built up a new touring bike (Lynskey), and he was testing his upgraded bike and new tent before a cross country tour, he had toured before.

Trip with ACA in West Texas for a week.

Tenth tour, solo, international, a bit over five weeks on the bike, add a lot more sightseeing time.  More at these links, the second and third links are not trip specific but I wrote them up after this trip:
https://www.bikeforums.net/21306368-post40.html
http://thorncyclesforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=13407.0
http://thorncyclesforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=13696.0

Then covid happened, have not been on a tour since, but am planning two.  I am now 68 years young.

Danneaux

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Re: Riding Solo - what don't people get?
« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2022, 05:15:32 PM »
I regard touring with a partner as being akin to a marriage for the duration of the time spent together. When all works well it can be blissful, but bicycle touring often has unexpected moments not everyone is prepared for emotionally and not everyone handles them well. You need to be able to count on each other and even a lot of day rides together is not always a good predictor of how another will react over the extended time together. It can be really difficult to share a tent at the end of a long, hard day when things have gone poorly; worse if there are a string of hard days where, say, there are steep hills, unexpected cold/heat, and headwinds. 

I have had some horrendous experiences touring with others because of their actions and not when touring solo. As a result, unless it is with a trusted relative, I much prefer the ultimate flexibility and reliability that comes from going by myself for pretty much any duration beyond a night or two.

If I were to tour again at length with a companion, I would insist we each be fully, independently equipped so we could sleep separately and if things went sour we could safely and easily part ways.

I know something about touring with others from my times as a professional tour leader and have seen and experienced the problems and dangers that can occur when someone goes off the rails and spoils the trip for others and this can happen in myriad ways. I have stories, Boy do I!  ;) From the male member who regularly exposed himself to others to the member who went through the group's bear-bagged food stores at night and ate all their favorite items to the one who decided to take off alone...after pilfering all the others' duplicate maps because "you can never have too many maps when you ride alone" and of course, those who go off on their own unexpectedly and on whim with no notice at all until a search party is organized and finds them relaxing in a hotel, the only clue being a lucky spotting of their bike parked outside. Add to that differences in um, "desired individual pursuits" of all sorts and the problems can multiply far beyond those caused by differences in fitness, fatigue, and attitude.

OTOH I have had some very nice times riding for several hours at a time with other tourists met along the way. We met, chatted as we rode, maybe shared a meal, then parted wishing each other well on our respective journeys.

In the last 45 years of "cycling with intent", I have logged a lot of mileage both domestically and internationally. I did my 2014 4-month, 9,000km European double-crossing solo at age 54 and would happily do the same today at 62. Of course there were difficulties as one would expect on a long tour with a lot of diversity, but nothing that could not be solved with a good attitude and resourcefulness. In sharp contrast was an earlier tour of the NL, BE and FR with what proved to be a sulky, unreliable and ultimately difficult companion I had known for years and had previously hosted on a short domestic tour.

Yes, going solo requires you carry a bit more weight in kit as there is no one to share the load. It requires a little more thought wrt security. On the other hand, it allows the ultimate in flexibility and makes wild and stealth camping much easier. I find going solo, I am much more likely to meet people along the way and they are more inclined to offer services and friendship to one person rather than two or more. I was astonished to find people handing me their house keys after just a few minutes' conversation with the expectation I would be showered and settled-in by the time they returned with groceries. Eight years later, most of those folks remain friends in daily contact via social media.

You do have to be comfortable with yourself and your own companionship for extended periods. Talking with others who have expressed astonishment at going alone, this seems to be a key factor a lot of people lack. One gentleman said, "Go it alone? I'd have no one to blame if things went bad!", apparently unwilling to take personal responsibility. The willingness to accept personal responsibility just may be the key element to successful solo touring. I think it underlies personal growth and always makes for the best experiences because I am fully vested.

Best wishes on your solo tours. Experience begets expertise and the challenges soon become routine. A lot of fun and joy awaits the solo traveler and I always encourage others to give it a try. Who knows, it may become your preferred method.

Best,

Dan.

mickeg

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Re: Riding Solo - what don't people get?
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2022, 10:04:54 PM »
.... It can be really difficult to share a tent at the end of a long, hard day when things have gone poorly; worse if there are a string of hard days where, say, there are steep hills, unexpected cold/heat, and headwinds. 
...
If I were to tour again at length with a companion, I would insist we each be fully, independently equipped so we could sleep separately and if things went sour we could safely and easily part ways.
...
Yes, going solo requires you carry a bit more weight in kit as there is no one to share the load. It requires a little more thought wrt security. ...
...
You do have to be comfortable with yourself and your own companionship for extended periods. Talking with others who have expressed astonishment at going alone, this seems to be a key factor a lot of people lack. ...

The former co-worker that I have toured with a few times, our first two tours we shared a tent.  Since then, we have two tents.

I find that there is not that much more weight and bulk with a kit for one.  But it takes some care to assemble the parts you want.

Yes, you have to put up with yourself, and if you are a terrible companion, it is best to stay home with a soft bed.

My solo cook kit varies a bit over time but as of my trips last year, it is very similar to the one in the photo.  I won't itemize all parts, but the key parts, top row has a red handled mug, that is titanium and can be used as a mug or as a second small pot for things like pasta sause.  Far right in the middle row, small fry pan inside a ziplock to protect the non-stick finish.  The titanium pot is close to a liter in size, it is used for virtually every meal and for coffee water.  The white thing in top row is the pasta strainer.  And of course, most important, the cork screw.  The green bowl in upper right nests in the titanium pot, the fry pan nests inside that.  The plastic jar in that bowl holds my instant coffee, that nests perfectly in the snow peak double wall coffee mug labeled Snow Peak.