Biking to China: The Daily Grind

We’ve written all over our website about how we’re bicycling 10,000 miles across Eurasia. In fact we’ve already knocked out about 250 of those miles since departing Paris last Saturday.

But this might beg the question, what does bike touring actually entail? To give you an idea, we’ll run through a typical day in the saddle.

  • 6:45 am: Wake up call 

As soon as we get up, Morgan and I begin to pack all of our belongings on to the bikes. Because we’re living off our cycles, we have to fit everything we have into just 5 bags each. That’s about 50 pounds of equipment apiece, and can only consist of the absolute necessities – including 3 pairs of clothes, a netbook computer, tent/sleeping bags, camera gear, food, and bike tools. The bikes are our mobile command centers.

  • 7:30 am: Breakfast Time.

Breakfast — a 1500+ calorie affair that needs to keep us pedaling throughout the first half of the day. To provide you an example breakfast fare: yesterday Morgan and I each consumed an entire baguette, a large croissant, and an 8th jar of peanut butter. We were hungry about two hours later. (Look for another post in the coming weeks about our bike touring diet).

The reason we find ourselves eating so much is because bike touring isn’t the same as busting out 20 miles on a light road cycle. For one thing, the touring bikes themselves are total tanks. These things are all steel, and weigh 30 pounds before even adding the other equipment we’re carrying. Think of them as a road bike/mountain bike combo that’s built to last through any sort of conditions. For any cycle enthusiasts out there, Morgan’s riding a German, custom-built bike called the Velo DeVille, and I’m cruising on a Trek 520.

  • 8 am: We’re pedaling

The goal is always to be on the road by 8 am, since riding such weighed-down cycles only allows us to move at around 15mph. Starting this early allows us the amount of daylight we need to travel 70 miles with anticipated stops for rest, food, and inevitable wrong turns/map checking.

  • 12 noon: Rest/Lunch

After we’ve covered about 35 miles or so, it’s time to look for a market, which are usually easy to find since we’re riding along well traveled roads. Although one of the biggest hassles of bike touring is ensuring the safety of our bikes and equipment when we step away from the saddle. When going into a store or establishment, one of us must stay outside with the bikes at all times. Or, if we’re locking them up, we have to take all the bags off the bikes and take them inside with us. It always draws some interesting glances when we show up somewhere like a restaurant with 50 pounds of luggage around our shoulders…

Another aspect we constantly keep in mind is bicycle maintenance. Lunch is usually a good time to check these things over. We’ve already discovered that if one minor adjustment goes out of whack, it can be a total game changer (i.e. Morgan’s seat came loose and we couldn’t raise it for a couple days because we needed a 13 mm wrench). So, we carry a small bike shop worth of tools with us in anticipation of any sort of problem we might face. Extra spokes? Check. Cassette remover? Check. Omnitool? Check. We’re fast becoming expert bike mechanics.

  • 4-5 pm: The finish line’s in sight

After rallying through 35 miles post lunch, we generally look to finish our ride around 5 or 6 pm so we have enough time to scope out our sleeping arrangements for the night. Our go-to resource is Couchsurfing. But we do have a fallback as well. Stealth camping.

  • 6pm: Set up camp

Stealth camping is exactly how it sounds. You see, it’s not strictly-speaking legal to camp out on the side of the road in the countries we’re traveling through, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a common practice among bike tourists. The trick is to find a spot that’s far enough from the road that you won’t be seen by passing cars, and to pitch your tent in an area that isn’t fenced off as private property. The opportunities are actually bountiful, and the two of us have found some pretty cool spots so far, with streams we can purify water from and flat surfaces to set up our gasoline burning stove. Although, we’ve also had some less than ideal spots, like the zero degree cow pasture we stayed in one night with frozen dung heaps.

No matter where we stay, though, we do know one thing for certain. At 6:45 am the next morning, the whole process is going to start over again. Each day on the road is its own adventure.

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One Response to Biking to China: The Daily Grind

  1. Ted Gonder says:

    Mad props. This is gritty and awesome.

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