Suddenly, I felt a cool breeze. The heat quickly subsided as my bike coasted downhill. My body no longer felt fatigued, but my mind was more active than ever. Emotions coursed through me as tears welled up in my eyes. The miles ticked down and my tears ran as I approached the Pacific Ocean. The ocean came into view and I knew that I had made it. 5,000 miles and seven months seemed like a passing fantasy. It was all I could do to pedal the last few miles to the ocean. As I dipped my wheel in the ocean, months of effort spilled out all at once. I sat and enjoyed a moment like I’ve never felt before.
I never imagined what this bike tour would be like or how I would feel after. Reaching the coast brought my emotions out all at once. I felt the incredible sense of accomplishment, yet at the same time, I felt upset it was over. My mind was a confluence of emotion. It was only over time while sitting with these emotions that I was able to comprehend them. The adventure and challenge were what attracted me to bike touring, but the love I was shown on the road was what kept me pedaling. I experienced life in a new, more beautiful way.
Bike Touring Can Change Your Life
It’s true. Bike touring can change your life. I knew when I left my front door that I would change in some way, but I never imagined the scale. I’m a fundamentally different person for a variety of reasons, and it all began with that first pedal stroke out of my driveway. I look back at the person I was and I’m still amazed at how much I’ve changed. What is it about bike touring that is so transformative? Why did I follow through with something that most people think is impossible?
Bike touring is incredible because it changes the way you look at yourself and the place you live or visit. There is no better method of local travel. Inch by inch you absorb everything around you. You’re in it. You interact with people you would never have met. You see things you never dreamed of seeing. There is so much beauty in all of it. The beauty in sight, sound, and people keep you pedaling. The experience is immersive and addictive. There will always be bad days, but the good days far outweigh them. I even look back at bad days with fondness at having gotten through them. Bike touring changes your perspective on the simplest things.
Your definition of comfort and need changes
It’s incredible how the little things mean so much more when you’re bike touring. A couch can mean the world when you’ve been sleeping on the ground for weeks. A hot meal tastes incredible after hours in the saddle. Conversation with a stranger brings incredible happiness after days of solitude. Little things mean so much more and you need so much less. You make do with what you can carry and you’re happy. You don’t need all the stuff you had at home. You’re happier than ever despite having nothing.
Little things bring you happiness. An incredible view or a sunset takes on a new meaning. You find happiness in making it to your destination without problems. At the same time, you deal with issues that would break any normal person. I shrugged off broken spokes, a broken frame, and countless flats. I knew someway or somehow, I’d make it. Problems mean less because you’ve really been through it. You’re pushed outside your comfort zone every day. Everything is new. The mundane gets easy. You need less and little things are incredibly satisfying. I never appreciated these little moments of happiness at home. It took getting out the door to appreciate them.
You Learn to Appreciate People
People are amazing. When you grow up in one place or stay close to home, you can grow jaded when it comes to the kindness of strangers. The news portrays strangers as dangerous and untrustworthy. I found the opposite. 99% of people are good. I had people give me food, money, a place to stay, or words of encouragement. Everyone I met was so giving. They saw my vulnerability and were willing to help me in any way they could. People were never selfish. They were so different than the perception.
This doesn’t mean I have an inherent trust in everyone. There are still people out there trying to take advantage of others, but the majority of people want to help. They want you to feel welcome in their town. They want you to understand them and their roots on a deep level. When you stop and listen, people have incredible stories to tell. Everyone is different, but everyone has an incredible story. Their stories can help you live better. You learn from people from different backgrounds which makes you more well-rounded. Strangers have a lot to teach.
Your Mind Learns Your Body Can Do Anything
5,000 miles looks daunting if not impossible. Just thinking about it brought me fear and trepidation. I succeeded by taking my tour mile by mile. In tough times I told myself I only had to make it the next ten miles. Ten miles later I pushed myself another ten miles. The mind is incredible when you push your body. You learn you can go beyond your limits and do things you never thought you could. Bike touring teaches the mind that your body can do anything. I’ve gotten through some incredibly difficult rides because I willed myself to do it. I rode over mountains, through 30 mph headwinds, and 175 miles in a day. It was only through small wins that I worked up to conquer these challenges.
Bike touring is a slow-building process where your mind realizes it can do more and more every day. You can start by riding 20 miles a day which may be more than you’ve ever done. It won’t be long before 80 miles feels like nothing. It’s incredible how the mind and body adapt to new challenges. Bike touring pushes your mind and body outside your comfort zone, so you can reach places you never imagined.
You Gain a New Appreciation for Nature
There is something incredible about being outside every day. It feels like something you were meant to do. You become absorbed in the warmth of the sun or a blooming flower. You take on a new appreciation for nature. On a bike, you’re surrounded by nature. My tour took me past oceans, lakes, mountains, streams, forests, and deserts. I saw the US from a unique perspective. I saw scenery change as I moved from the deciduous forest to the pine forests of the south to the swamp. Across the country, the terrain flattened out with incredible coastal views followed by the desert. Scenery and landscapes change before your eyes. You appreciate the beauty.
Nature doesn’t feel like something foreign or forbidding. It feels welcoming and new. I gained a new appreciation for all of it. A quiet bridge over a stream took on new meaning just as much as a grand vista on a mountain. You begin to notice things you didn’t before. The hummingbird landing on the flower or the circling hawk appears even though they were there the whole time. Bike touring can change your life because nature becomes visceral. It encourages happiness I’ve never felt before.
Bike Touring is Transformative
Bike touring changed the way I live my life. It helped me realize who I am while helping me gain a better appreciation for the US and its people. I learned to love nature and strangers. I never imagined what my body could do and how hard I could push myself. My definition of comfort became all about the little things. I appreciated everything so much more. I’ve been changed fundamentally and I have my bike tour to thank. I knew the tour would be transformative, but I never imagined how different I would be. I’m still going through my emotions at having finished this epic adventure, but I know that the lessons will last a lifetime.
You don’t have to travel 5,000 miles on a bike to gain some of the lessons I did. A weekend tour to the next town can do just as much. Don’t overcomplicate it. Grab your bike and bike as far as you can. You don’t even need camping gear. Use www.warmshowers.org or stay at a motel. Your mind and body will thank you. Get out there and explore. Let bike touring change your life. You won’t regret it.
Have you done any large bike tours? What do you think about bike touring or travel and how it can change you? Have you had any experiences which fundamentally changed the way you think about the world? Let me know in the comments.