…continued from part 1.
12. Nutrition and hydration
Regular nutrition is key to riding sustainably for many kilometers. In the morning or the previous evening you should stock up on dried fruit, bananas, bars and other snacks. I can ride for many hours if I eat something small every hour or so.
Big meals are great but they are time consuming. There’s also a fat chance of overeating. I recommend planning for dinner and nothing else.
Drinking plenty of water is essential. Without sufficient hydration you will get tired too quickly. I had a camelbak and two extra water bottles. Even in Europe water fountains could be hard to come by.
13. Team tempo
People have varying fitness levels so their comfortable cruising speeds differ. Riding at the slowest common speed might not be the best strategy because riding slower than it is comfortable could be straining. And when the route is challenging and not everyone has a GPS it is hard to coordinate catch-ups.
I had terrible pain in my butt so I preferred to race ahead for about an hour and then take a 10 minute brake. It was the time in the saddle which was the hardest for me. As you can imagine, we got lost regularly but miraculously were able to catch up each and every day.
14. Leave early, arrive early
Leave early and arrive early. Leave at 8:30 the latest and plan to arrive before 18:00. This means that you should plan to leave at 8. Anytime later is a recipe for spiraling late arrival. There won’t be enough time to rest, to take care of the body and the bikes.
Choose the best accommodation you can. Places that allow to relax and wind down. When I’m stressed because a place is smelly, cramped and dirty I won’t rest. And I will be tired the following day.
It is a good idea to book separate rooms. Some people prefer to leave the bedroom window open to let fresh air in. Others feel too cold. Some snore. Others find it hard to fall asleep.
Accommodation is a matter of personal choice. Some people prefer to camp or stay in hostels. On this tour I wish we had chosen better hotels and apartments. I find it plausible that additional experience expands comfort level. But I’d be gentle when just starting out. Too many hardships at once could become unbearable.
16. Captain “Spoke”
When the team gets large enough (3+ members) choose a predetermined person as a captain, or a leader. In times of doubt and turmoil everyone should contribute but the captain must be given authority to make decisions and the rest of the team should unconditionally accept them. It does not matter than the captain could be wrong now and then. What matters more is that the team does not pursue too many options and argue much.
We did not have a captain. Whenever we had navigation issues and were unsure of whether to follow our pre-programmed GPS route or local signs we got into lengthy draining arguments, especially as exhaustion piled up on team’s shoulders.
17. Team spirit
Everyone should stick together and have respect for the effort of others. Here’s an example. Somebody decides to skip a leg of a route while the rest toils through a storm and additional hundred or so kilometers, arrives at midnight in a terrible city. This person should not make decisions of what to do the next day. This person should stay quiet and keep his replenished heroism and enthusiasm to himself.
Be prepared for conflicts of interest. Everyone has their own ideas of fun. Some might like to take a dirt road. Others prefer the smooth pavement. It’s not always possible to please everyone so either have strict planning or agree to catch up somewhere along the route later.
18. Praise the rain gear
It is surprising just how efficient modern good water-proof clothing is and how protected the rider is from the elements. Gradually, piece by piece I bought a whole set: pants, jacket, helmet cover, gloves, shoe gaters. I could not swallow the total price of the whole kit at once because quality membrane materials are expensive. But worth every penny!
We rode through several storms and rain poured almost non stop the last couple of days. Clothing made out of modern materials save the rider from the water yet are sufficiently breathable. Depending on the climate and the time of the year it’s possible to combine outer layers with inner layers to achieve the right amount of warmth.
One set of clothes is absolutely sufficient. I regret I took extra clothing with me. Layers and extra pieces of clothing can be combined for the changing circumstances in almost infinite ways. Extra sets of underwear might come handy but that’s about it.
19. The Zen
The joy of touring is to be present in the moment of cycling and not to think about the destination much. If you find yourself constantly thinking about racing ahead just to get to the next point quicker something has gone wrong.
In place of conclusion
This short collection of insights is all I’ve jotted down on our train back from Rotterdam to Zürich following a controversial and memorable biking experience. It is by no means extensive or advanced but it might give you an idea of what problems to expect on your first self organized bicycle tour. Hopefully you will prepare adequately and most of the issues we had in our tour won’t happen in your next amazing adventure.
As for us, we can’t wait for 2015. We’re not yet planning but we’re already excited about the next great biking adventure. This time we’ll be hopefully dealing with a completely new set of challenging problems.