The Therapy of Bike Touring

Trying to weld Morgan's broken rack. It didn't work.

I could hear the truck behind me slowing down so it could pull up alongside me. I was riding my bicycle down the narrow highway from Mestia — a town perched high up in the Georgian mountains. As the sounds of high-pitched, squealing brakes drew closer and closer, I knew what was going to happen. The truck driver wanted to talk to me.

It happens frequently in places where cycle tourists are a rare sight. Drivers will slow down, roll down their windows, and shout some words of mockery, amusement, or encouragement in a foreign language before speeding off. It can actually get quite annoying. The problem is that, as an English-speaker, you’re never sure what’s being said. So I instinctively braced myself for the familiar, confusing interaction.

“Problem, Problem!” the driver shouted to me in a thick, Georgian accent. He was trying to help me.

The driver gestured backwards with his thumb, and I turned around to see that Morgan was nowhere in sight. Normally we ride within 100 feet of each other. So yes — there was clearly a problem.

After circling back a couple kilometers, I found my cycling partner sitting by the side of the road, looking upset and frustrated. I glanced over to his bicycle, where it wasn’t difficult to identify the source of his “problem.” Morgan’s front rack had snapped completely in two — the supporting bar bent, and hanging loosely.

This was not good. Not good at all.

I knew right away there was no fixing the issue. We had to find Morgan a new bike rack. The Tubus racks we use are made with hardened steel, which means they can’t be easily welded (we tried, see picture above), nor simply tied together. It’s a specialized item, and there would be no way to get a replacement short of shipping one in from Europe or the States. It would be an expensive problem, and it would be a hassle.

Morgan angrily flung the useless piece of equipment down into a gulley. I watched, but didn’t say anything. I knew that these sorts of mechanical issues are to be expected during long-term cycle touring, but I couldn’t help but feel similarly. The accident came at a bad time.

In sum: we had already lost our omni-tool the night before – the one piece of equipment we use to make all major hardware tweaks and adjustments on our bikes. We had just finished a week-long stint in the mountains, covering a feature story about rock climbers, from which we were mentally and physically exhausted. And we were spending the next two days cycling roads we had already traveled on, meaning we would be three-quarters to Tbilisi before we saw any new scenery.

The broken bike rack was icing on the cake.

Dejectedly, Morgan and I walked over to sit in the nearby shade of a half-constructed, half-forgotten building. We pulled out our ham and cheese sandwiches, and nibbled at them in silence. I soon began to feel overwhelmed.

Such are the moments — when one problem seems to compound upon another — when the enormity of the trip hits me. I get stressed. I begin to draw a mental map of the world, imagining all those miles we still have to go, stretched out in interminable lines across mountains and deserts and jungles. So many miles…and yet we’re still only a third of the way through. It makes me feel tired. Shanghai seems like an impossibly distant destination.

Of course the reality is, when you’re stuck on the side of the road, in the middle of the Georgian mountains, you have no real choice but to soldier onward. Eventually we stirred from our brooding, and Morgan discovered that between the two of us, we could still carry the baggage from his front panniers. So we loaded up his gear and, with little enthusiasm, decided to continue along our way. After all, we were still trying to make an additional 70 km that day. I was not looking forward to it.

We rolled our bikes back onto the highway, and set off slowly. I immediately felt the unwillingness of my legs. But with each passing kilometer, Morgan and I gradually built up speed. Our bodies were drifting into their natural cadence — a sort of autopilot mode where hands can shift gears without thought, and legs automatically adjust their strain to the undulating grades of the hills. My mind, which was racing with foreboding thoughts when we started, began to dull with the repetitive motions of cycling. I felt my nerves calm, and the white reflectors of the road whizzed past with ease. By the time Morgan and I reached the extra 70 kilometers, I felt completely relaxed.

Having finished the ride, we returned from our bicycle-induced reveries to find a camp site for the evening, and cooked a steaming pot of pasta marinara. It wasn’t long before we returned to the discussion about fixing the broken bicycle rack. Except this time, it didn’t seem so bad. I no longer felt overwhelmed or defeated, but confident and self-assured.

The difference was in the bike ride.

There is a certain therapy in bicycle touring that I’ve come to rely on. The mindless hours on the road are not a waste. Instead, they offer a momentary yet necessary sanctuary from the innumerable stresses and problems that Morgan and I constantly deal with – the trip logistics, the writing deadlines, the frustrations pursuing stories, etc. Cycling is our chance to reboot, to see things more clearly, and incentivizes us to work harder in the shorter windows of time given to us.

It’s also what gives us some personal space; even though we ride together, bike touring is a predominantly solitary experience. Morgan and I spend 24/7 together, but when we’re cycling we interact very little with each other. It actually gives us some much needed alone time. Otherwise, we would always be caught up in each other’s stress. The bike touring is what gives us some room for perspective.

It’s a good thing, too. There will be so many problems that we’ll face over the next year or so. And it’s nice to know that we have an outlet to decompress from it all — to refresh and come back to the drawing board with renewed energy. We’ll need it.

Over our spaghetti dinner in the campsite, Morgan and I drew out a plan to have a new Tubus rack shipped to Mumbai, where we could pick it up in a Fed-ex store upon our arrival.

The plan worked out fine. We picked up the new rack two days ago.

Bike Touring, Permalink

One Response to The Therapy of Bike Touring

  1. Tarab says:

    there is another lady who I see riindg along throsby creek every morning on her way to work at that Joy Cummings center near cafe 2300. I wouldn’t call her elderly . Past half way, might be a softer description. Anyway, she is a stalwart. And very cute, as all women on bikes are to my eye. If you see her, do ask her to stop for a photo. I would, but I am too shy.

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