I don’t really plan to file an ad in the “personal” section of any web site or publication. Instead, this calls attention to a situation that many bicycle touring enthusiasts face. The reality is that there are very few people who would want to do self-supported bicycle touring: it is a demanding sport. As a result, it is difficult to find people who want to share the experiences and challenges of bicycle touring.
At one point I tried to recruit a friend to join me. This was an attempt that included full disclosure: this would entail some camping, carrying a load on the bike, and pedaling many miles over the course of a week or more. He laughed and said, “When I ride a long distance, my wife drops me off and picks me up at the end of the day.”
My recruiting efforts have expanded to people that I meet on my training rides. There are several people who I see regularly, but they are riding for a different reason than I am. Each one has a similar story and they certainly have a noble reason for riding. The reason is to get outside and get some exercise rather than working out in a stuffy gymnasium. Some are trying to recover from physical or medical difficulties like knee or back surgery. The rail trails give us about 25 miles of round trip exercise. When I turn the conversation to my 300 to 400 mile rides, their attention turns to the trees, the sky, and other things.
There are people who take an active approach to test their personal interest in touring. The annual Erie Canal ride that is organized by Parks and Trails New York draws a number of people who are trying this supported tour to get some feeling for the sport. I have met quite a few of the approximately 500 people on the ride who even bought touring bikes for the experiment. I have collected a few email addresses in the hope that maybe one of them would become interested. Apparently by the end of the 400 mile Erie ride they had enough.
On my tours I have met still other people who jumped into bicycle touring with both feet, but were poorly prepared. On my recent ride from Pittsburgh to Georgetown I met a guy and his teenage son. At our first camp site together, I was struck by the outsized equipment that was awkwardly strapped to their bicycles. This included foam mattresses and a 2 ½ gallon water jug. I didn’t think that they would make it to Georgetown. However, they took advantage of bicycle shops along the way and made significant changes during the course of the trip. The last time that I saw them with nearly 250 miles behind us, they were looking much more streamlined. They were quickly learning how to tour successfully and I asked them if they would do this again. The answer was “no”; this was a one-time deal.
One final obstacle is that people who are looking for a companion intend to tour southeast Asia or coast to coast across the United States. Tours that get attention in the publications are of that type: a six day ride from Pittsburgh to Georgetown isn’t very sexy. I haven’t found anybody looking for a companion for a six to ten day tour.
Self-supported bicycle touring is something that I love to do, but it is challenging and there are always surprises of the kind that need to be overcome on the trail even though you may be in Maryland instead of Vietnam. That’s part of the fun of doing it for me. It’s not like an inn to inn “beer tour” or “gourmet food tour” where everything is managed for you and the highlight of the day is the beer or the food. On a self-supported trip you need to plan for eating and sleeping each day and the highlights are the many sights that you stop to enjoy and people that you meet along the way.
So, I will continue to travel alone on my bicycle, sharing my experiences in my travelogues. I would welcome a companion, but not having one will not stop me. The people who are crazy dedicated to bicycle touring like me are few.