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If You Give A Girl A Bike, She’ll Pack It.

I am not what most people picture when they think of a cyclist. I am a chubby girl (think Mr. Incredible, mid-life crisis body) with cat-eye glasses, great lipstick, and an affinity for indoor hobbies like eating pizza and watching Netflix. When I walk into a bike shop, I think most people assume I’m lost. This is because of the confused look they typically have on their faces…”umm….can I help you..?” But indeed, I really love to cycle. I love the feeling that I get when I ride. I used to think that I had to be in better shape or needed to lose more weight before I could introduce myself to the cycling world. I don’t look athletic on my best day but about a year and a half ago I decided I was sick of my self-defeating thoughts keeping me from living life and trying the activities I dreamed of.

The idea of mountain biking was intimidating but it was something I had a feeling I would enjoy. I just needed someone to show me the basics. I had a few friends introduce me to mountain biking and even though it was really hard and I definitely felt inadequate, I fell in love with biking because it is a wholly mindful experience. For two hours I had to completely focus only on what was happening in that moment. Or you know, I might have too close encounters of the saddle kind. For those two hours I was free from anxiety, free from the worries and daily tedium that plagued me. I forgot about how I looked and reveled in the feeling of how strong and capable my body actually was. As I continued to bike, I started gaining more confidence because I was doing something that before had intimidated me. I could do hard things! I could do hard PHYSICAL things. I started to feel genuine gratitude for my body, a change from my typical diet of shame and self recrimination. 

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This introduction to the cycling world was paralleled by my journey into the hiking and backpacking world. I felt the same mindfully meditative benefits with these that I felt with biking. And also with traveling (a long standing hobby by this time). I was excited when I started learning more about the bike packing world that was successfully merging some of my favorite activities. 

When my step-mom was 19, she cycled the entirety of New Zealand. I thought this was the most badass thing, and this idea was in the back of my mind as I started to sell off most of my worldly possessions to travel the world indefinitely. I decided to begin with a move to New Zealand. At the time I was listening to podcasts and reading a lot of blogs by people who were doing long-term self-supporting bike tours around the world using a variety of different methods. I was intrigued with the more minimalistic bike packing gear vs the more traditional pannier/bike rack method. I followed several bike packing Instagram accounts and reading more about bike packing in general. I knew I wanted to do a bike packing adventure in New Zealand for sure….but thought it might be wise to have a maiden voyage in the safety of the homeland to build some confidence and acclimate myself to longer bike touring.

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The Route:

Fly into Victoria, BC and then take the ferry to Port Angeles, Washington. Bike from Port Angeles to Astoria, Oregon along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). A friend or the bus could take me from Astoria to the Portland, Oregon airport. I didn’t have a rigid time to finish but ended up finishing in 7 days, averaging 30 to 50 miles per day.

Getting the bike there:

I took my bike to my local bike shop and had it boxed up then took the box to Fed Ex and shipped it to the bike shop in Victoria (Broad Street Cycles) and they assembled it for me and had it ready when I arrived. I road the bike onto the ferry. When I got to Astoria, the bike shop boxed and shipped it home. Be warned though—three months later I JUST got a notice from the bike shop in Victoria informing me that there was an additional $90 customs fee FedEx charged them that I needed to pay. 

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Accommodations:

As a traveler I usually iron out the bare necessities like my flights and initial accommodation…but I’ll be honest…I didn’t really make a solid route plan until I was at the hostel in Victoria the night before I left. I am kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of girl. I just googled different campsites and wrote down distances between them. I decided each day how far I thought I could cycle and then headed for that campsite. Luckily there are tons of campsites along the PCH in Washington. 

The Bike Gear: 

I got pretty caught up for a while in find the BEST touring bike, the BEST gear, the LIGHTEST equipment….but then I read this article that basically was like “How to bike tour: 1) get on any bike that works 2) get a backpack or strap on some storage 3) pedal.” Their point is that we can get so caught up in having what’s “best” or “right” that we feel like we can’t do it without all of the fancy stuff. I read about people who bought a crappy one-speed from a pawn shop, secured a bucket on the back, and toured for a year on that. I am not a princess but that’s definitely too hard core for me. But I had a road bike already and knew that my ambivalence about spending money on an expensive touring bike was paralyzing my ability to make solid plans.

I decided to use the road bike I already had (a Specialized Dolce) and despite my love for researching gear, I procrastinated long enough that necessity required I purchase the bags that happened to be in stock at the local bike shop Red Rock (which luckily had most of what I needed). I used a Specialized handlebar mount, dry bag, and tube bag as well as a triangle frame bag from Revelate. I really wanted a saddle bag but the available bags were too big and grazed my back tire. So I used a bungee cord to latch my sleeping bag to the saddle and figured that was good enough. As for tires, I used Schawbe Marathon tires and am SO glad I did. I went over shards of glass, shrubbery, wood chips, and all other manner of debris and didn’t have to change my tube once. And they only need to be filled up on air every 3 or 4 days ( I may or may not have gone five days…wouldn’t recommend it).

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Some people recommend a dress rehearsal with your bike before you leave. I did not do this. I knew I would feel intimidated and more anxious. Yes, this is called denial. I literally did not put everything all together and ride my bike in it’s full glory until I road away from the Victoria hostel to the ferry. 

Camping Gear:

As for the rest of my gear, I had a lot of backpacking stuff so I just used what I had. I have a Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag that weights about 3.5 lbs, a Klymit Static V insulated sleeping pad (a bit heavier but it is a luxury item that am unwilling to part with), a Sea to Summit camping pillow, platypus water bottles (they are basically flat and can be rolled up when not in use), Ultrapspire 2L reservoir, Big Agnes Platinum two person tent and footprint. I have a Snowpeak Lite stove, Pinnacle dualist pot, and a titanium spork. I also used an Osprey Mira pack to carry the rest of my stuff that didn’t fit in the bags.

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Apparel:

Um yes, you do need diaper shorts. I took two jerseys, two biking bottoms, two pairs of leggings, four pairs of underwear, one pair of wool socks, a weatherproof jacket, a rain jacket shell (mine was not great so I recommend a higher quality one if you are going to be in wet climates), and a headband. I did not use clips (they make my legs tingly every time) so I used Keens which are a good shoe for this route. I had biking gloves but I wish I would have had my fingerless instead of full gloves because it was annoying to remove gloves every time I needed to check my phone GPS (…I guess I felt a frequent need to confirm how slow I was indeed traveling). And a helmet—duh. 

Food:

I brought my camp stove and pot to boil water. It was cup noodles and other dehydrated food along with whatever else I picked up at convenience stores, grocery stores, or restaurants along the way. 

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Things I would not do without: 

  • SCHWALBE MARATHON TIRES!!!! 
  • Waterproof jacket (but I would get a much better one)
  • Footprint for my tent. My tent would have been so muddy
  • Diaper shorts
  • Sunscreen
  • Diva Cup—for ladies if its that time (which it happened to be for me), this is the most amazing product for lady times. I use it when I’m on and off the road.
  • Tylenol
  • Backup battery for phone

Things I could do without:

  • Camera, lenses, and gorillapod (depends how important pics are to you. A phone would be sufficient)
  • Less clothing
  • I would try to not use a backpack again. I probably had too much in it but still, it puts a strain on your back.
  • I took too many body products. 

Things I wish I had: 

  • LOWER GEARS!!! I had to walk up so many hills because I did not have low enough gears to really take on those hills with all of the extra weight.
  • One of those bright yellow vests
  •  A better saddle—mine was the saddle that came on my bike. I was always sore though my lower half sort of tuned out the discomfort after a while. I would go for the Brooks leather saddle since everyone I’ve met since has used that and loves it.
  • A rear rack—I wouldn’t use panniers but would definitely latch a dry bag to the back instead of using a backpack
  • Safety head and taillights that flash at all times (a guy on the road stopped and told me he had a hard time seeing me even in the daylight because of the shadows on the road), 
  • Cheap flip flops
  • Lube for the chain: I stopped at a bike shop and that worked too but it was longer than I thought it would be to a bike shop and my chain was in need

Things I worried about unnecessarily:

I was really worried about chaffing but ended up running out of chamois cream a few days in and I was fine. No chaffing. I was also worried about needing a rearview mirror on my bike handle or my helmet. It was hard to mount to my bike though so I didn’t end up using the one I bought and didn’t miss it.

SOLO FEMALE?!

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One thing I am often asked about is traveling solo, especially as a female. People ask if it scares me or if I feel unsafe. I did not feel unsafe at all. Truly. People were friendly and helpful and I experienced many kindnesses from strangers. This trip was easy to do solo because the route is on highway and not in the backcountry where I’d be more worried about no one finding me if I was hurt. I had cell phone service most of the time. I loved doing this trip solo because I could take my own pace, stop when I wanted, sleep and eat when I wanted without worrying about someone else. Also, I didn’t have to plan this trip on anyone else’s schedule or have my plan ruined if they had to back out last minute.

Final thoughts:

This was one of the toughest things I have done. Every day I had moments where I was certain I wouldn’t finish and felt like it was impossible. Even when I finished it still didn’t feel like I really had accomplished this goal. I think that’s pretty typical any time we set out to do something that challenges us, especially if it’s something new. But I gave myself permission to take my time, to walk as much as I needed, and to cry when I felt like it. I tried really hard not to compare myself to others who are faster and fitter than me. And I think that how I was able to finish. That, and the added confidence I felt growing in myself and in my body. It’s an indescribable high to realize you can do something that at one time felt impossible. I know so many people who doubt themselves and are so trapped in their insecurity, anxiety, and fear. I have been there and I want everyone, regardless of their fitness level, age, gender, appearance, knowledge of biking (or lack thereof), etc to know that if this is something you’ve wanted to explore and try, you CAN do this. Give yourself enough time, some patience, and let go of comparisons and unrealistic expectations and you can accomplish just about anything. You are so much more capable than you know!

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So would I do this again? Absolutely! In fact, I am using this as a learning prep for my dream bike packing adventure in New Zealand—the Tour Aotearoa in February 2017. It’s a multi-terrain route from the north of the north island to the southern tip of the south island. It will be a challenge and much longer than this trip but I am excited to make that dream reality!

Words and images by Tiffany Larson

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