Bicycle Trip Planning

By Vic Oblas             Intrepid, experienced, bicycle tourer

Monarch Pass, Colorado

My first overnight bike trip was three months long. It started in London and ended at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. A friend suggested the trip, and “planned” the route. I agreed, not thinking much beyond the need for a break and having an adventure. I was 37 at the time.

That was 27 years ago and since that time I’ve planned and/or participated in more than a dozen trips – none quite so ambitious, but “planned” and executed in about the same manner as my first. I was a novice on that first trip and I’m glad to report that since then I haven’t really improved my planning skills. I don’t know if that’s an inherent flaw in my character, or purposeful, since the lure of a long bike trip for me is entering an unknown environment with nothing more than your wits and what you carry with you. I have learned though, to be particular about what I bring with me.

On a trip from Jackson Hole to Laramie one summer (1989), we crossed the Continental Divide (who would have guessed?!) and encountered a wet and slushy snow squall. Bad enough to ride a bicycle in snow, but I didn’t bring any full fingered gloves and by the time we descended into warmer weather my hands were like little blocks of ice. I was with a group of 6 or 7, including my 15 year old daughter who thought it would be fun to have an adventure with her dad. Luckily for her a car stopped as we were struggling up hill in the snow and offered her a pair of cotton work gloves.

The kindness of strangers is always a surprise to me and seems to occur most often on bike trips. On a trip we took from Albuquerque to Farmington, we had to stop at a road block and wait for traffic from the other direction to clear. There was a fourteen mile stretch of uphill highway under construction ahead of us (who would have expected?!) and an ominous darkening sky coming our way from behind. We pulled up to the front of the line and waited: both to be waved on and to get soaked (of course we didn’t have rain parkas – it was summer again, and it was New Mexico for God’s sake). It was then that a kindly old couple in a Ford pickup a few cars back offered to give us a ride over the pass, beyond the roadwork, and out of the path of the oncoming downpour.

My daughter cried on that trip and swore never to go on another one. She also cried on the Jackson Hole trip and swore never to go on another bike trip, and she cried again on the Oakland to Eureka trip, and on the next one, from Flagstaff to Las Vegas. She cried at least once on all of them, foreswearing never to do it again, but every time I suggest another one, she’s the first to join in. The last one we went on together was from Granby to Telluride in the Colorado Rockies. She brought her future husband along, and he cried too, though it wasn’t until we had crossed one 11,000 foot pass and were headed up the second. Come to find out he hadn’t ridden a bicycle since High School (he had just graduated from college). We also learned later that his “friends” at work had a pool going that he would never make it. He did, and though I’m proud to call him my son-in-law neither of them have been on a ride with me since.

But I digress. My assignment for the Seattle Cycling Tours was to explain how one gets an idea about a bike trip and then makes it a reality. Getting the idea for a trip is rather simple. I live in Issaquah, WA where it rains 62 inches a year. It’s cold and dark (and did I mention, wet?) from mid-October until the middle of June; July in a wet year. So about the end of December I start daydreaming about deserts, and having the sun on my back. It isn’t until December that I’ve forgotten about the pain and suffering endured during the trip the summer before, and the fun of it all emerges as the primary memory. I start working on my two biking buddies (my daughter is now pregnant with her third and has a legitimate out). Brilliant in their own fields of endeavor they are susceptible to smooth talk and trickery and are soon convinced that another bike trip would be just the thing.

Last year I imagined Arizona again, and suggested Monument Valley. A week at most: easy ride, guaranteed sunshine (see above), little traffic. How could they refuse? About two months later, after they had (reluctantly?) agreed, I had an epiphany: if we added a few days on either side of the week and spent a few more dollars on air fare, heck, we could go to …..Sicily. That was about the extent of my thought process and two months later we landed in Palermo. My job was done.

Fortunately, Craig (the humble owner of SCT) is better at details than I, and actually thinking things through. He found us a great home base and place to stay, and a route to follow when we tired of being lost in a foreign country. Fabulous trip: sunshine, good food, lot’s of exercise, and plenty of unforeseen delights. I didn’t know where I was more than half the time, but Craig was clever enough to bring along detailed maps.

I’m not sure about the next great adventure. I started thinking that Budapest to Istanbul would be an interesting ride but Sicily is still percolating away in my subconscious. It’s June now so I’ll have to content myself with more local adventures, but Budapest and Greece are still rolling around in my mind, and I’m not getting any younger…… Editors note:

Vic will be adding more stories of past trips to our site. Meanwhile he commutes in and out of Seattle most weekdays, keeping in shape for that next big adventure. He might even be leading some of our local tours from time to time.