We’ve officially been on the road for one month! The good news: we haven’t killed each other yet. And we still bathe relatively frequently. But we do have a couple of “lessons learned” that we thought we would share with our loyal readers. In typical Tom and Alex fashion, we agree in broad terms but still manage to hold onto some strongly divergent opinions. So, in the absence of anyone to interview us, we’re interviewing ourselves. Enjoy.
Division of Labor is Important (Except in the Morning).
A: Routine develops quicker than one would think. Our new bike lives can broadly be summed up as wake up, eat, pack, ride, unpack, eat, sleep, repeat. The stunning scenery, lung-busting climbs, and interesting people we meet certainly round out the day. But everything has run just a little bit smoother since we worked out a few routines to help us get going. After many a grumpy morning, we’ve found that the best division of labor is the one that gets us on the road the quickest, which does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split. This is mostly because I literally have trouble opening my eyes in the morning, while Tom is out of bed like a shot as soon as the alarm goes off. So, while I muddle about doing things that I can do while still in my sleeping bag, like packing up the inside of the tent, Tom gets to work on everything else, most importantly coffee. While I would really like to claim that I’m pulling 50% of the weight in the morning, the reality is that Tom, in his ever-efficient German manner, is usually responsible for getting us on the road. And Tom would rather have it that way than wait for me to gain consciousness before we can get going. And that’s okay by me.
T: I couldn’t agree more. I’m perfectly fine taking care of most of the chores in the morning as long as Alex gets her tired body out of her sleeping bag. When I look at our first days on the trip I’m astounded to see that we needed more than 3 hours in the mornings to get going. Over the course of a month we’ve been able to reduce that by more than 50% (that makes a total of less than an hour and a half for all you math haters out there), but there’s still room for improvement. Sooner or later we will be forced to get quicker and more efficient, otherwise we’ll get stuck in the heat of the day when the best hours of riding are early in the morning.
Two Days of Planning is Plenty.
A: In the first couple weeks of our trip, we (read: Tom) did a lot of worrying about timelines – predominantly about how we were going to make it to Los Angeles in time to catch our flight to Germany at the end of May. I had laid out a rough daily mileage plan before we left, which turned out to be doubly flawed: it overestimated how much I could ride fully loaded per day, and it underestimated the distance from Seattle to LA by about 500 miles (whoops!). Needless to say, it started to feel like all we were talking about was how far away we were from LA. As the slower rider, I ended up feeling a lot of stress about this far-off destination that was still hundreds of miles and many weeks away. Finally, we decided to just stop. If we didn’t reach LA within the timeframe we needed to, we would use our brains and the internet to find some other means of transportation to get us there. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.
T: A little correction here. It is not the timelines I was worried about but more the pain we will have to go through once we return to our bikes after our stint in Germany. We will go deeper into this topic when we actually cross that threshold, but for now I’ll leave it a little bit shrouded in mystery. As for the actual planning ahead, I’d say it’s good to keep the overarching goal in mind, but you really do not need to plan explicitly any further than two days ahead. Shitty weather, bike failures, cool things on the side of the road, general exhaustion and so many other things can quickly derail your plans, that’s something we’ve learned along the way so far.
The Egg Curse.
T: Even though I love a good oatmeal breakfast, there have been a few days when I’ve given in to Alex’s cries for eggs. However, we’ve discovered something distressing: whenever we eat an egg breakfast, the day takes a turn for the worse. The evidence speaks for itself. We ate eggs at Mr. Dow’s house in Manzanita, and that day we only managed to ride 11 miles in driving rain and 40 mile per hour headwinds before turning in at Rockaway Beach. Then we ate eggs in Bandon, and what do you know, more nasty headwinds. Then we ate eggs with Alex’s dad in Brookings, and suddenly the U-Haul reservation falls through. Then we ate eggs (well, quiche) in Mendocino, and we lose the iPad. We must be cursed!
A: Yeah, this is all true. Sad, but true. Sadder still is the fact that I’ve eaten oatmeal for something like 25 days out of the past month. On the bright side, we ate eggs this morning and have thus far survived the day, so maybe the curse is broken?
Chained to Chains.
T: Living in a somewhat large city, it is easy to avoid the big chains. Starbucks, McDonalds, Fred Meyer, you name it. There’s always an alternative, always a smaller, more local store that you will feel better spending your money at. But now that we’re on our trip, we’ve come to realize that these big names have an upside to things, especially with us being on a budget. Need free Wi-Fi to post on the blog? There’s a Starbucks in every other town! Restock your groceries cheaply? Fred Meyer is right around the corner! Nearing sunstroke? Let’s stop at McDonalds for a milkshake! It’s not that we endorse all these big names, but the convenience of it is undeniable in towns with less than 500 people and no other place in sight. When we were still in Seattle it was quite different but our circumstances have changed and that has had an impact on how we have to approach a basic problem like how to spend our money.
A: This one still bothers me. It’s true that when coming through Southern Washington and Oregon, we spent an inordinate amount of hanging out in (and outside) Fred Meyer, either to mooch Wi-Fi or to get out of the rain. I’ll steal their internet any day, but I hate buying their groceries. Especially produce. Coming through the central California coast has taken us by miles and miles of strawberry fields, largely operated by Dole and regularly doused in pesticides, which inevitably end up in our faces and at the bottom of the nearest valley. I’ll end my rant there, but let’s just say that I’m still more than willing to spend a couple of extra bucks for produce grown organically and close to home (wherever home may be that day). Which is why I do a lot of grocery shopping in secret, away from Tom’s miserly gaze.
The Wisdom of the Masses.
A: We’ve been on the receiving end of a whole lot of advice, both in preparation for this trip and while on the road. Most of that advice has been sincerely appreciated (truly). But some has been pretty astounding, and in some cases just hilarious. For me, the most unexpected advice has come from the preponderance of people who have implored us to bring a gun, or in some cases multiple guns. Gun suggestions have ranged from a small “ladylike” pistol to a Kalashnikov. Mostly this is to protect us from Mexican drug cartels that, according to popular opinion, dominate every city, town, and suburb south of the border. And while we are thankful that these gun-suggesting people are concerned for our safety, we are both firmly of the opinion that in the unlikely event that we run into a drug cartel (in the U.S. or Mexico or anywhere else), we would be better off facing them gun-free. And yes, we also plan to be very careful and will keep our wits about us. We will probably smell bad enough by the time we hit Mexico that most people will stay away from us anyways.
T: What I find particularly interesting about this one is that a lot of this advice is often completely obvious. There was an old man at McDonald’s (I know, we had a weak moment) who told us not to drink that water in Mexico and also not to ride over glass. Or a guy just before San Francisco who told us in a completely serious manner and from an incredibly high horse, as if we were some kind of dumbasses, that it’s going to get hotter the further south we go. Thank you, Captain Hindsight! I’m already looking forward to people telling us that water is wet and that a cow goes moo.
Talk to Strangers.
T: When I grew up I was always instructed to never talk to strangers. Don’t take candy from strange men, that kind of thing. I am not sure whether that is a German thing in particular but I’m assuming that many other cultures use the same trope. However, this attitude has changed a little bit for us. Talking to strangers can have quite the payoff. You wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve been approached by other people who were curious about our trip, who we then talked to for a long time and who eventually offered us a place to stay at night. Hell, we’ve even accepted a bar of chocolate from a complete stranger, we’ve come that far! And here’s the good news, that chocolate wasn’t poisoned, that woman didn’t try to murder us, eat us, bake us, or do some other crazy Hansel and Gretel stuff to our poor bodies. Or look at Charlie the lineman. A man of faith driving us through half a county, how great was that!? So when people talk to us, they normally don’t have the intention of stealing our stuff or doing anything worse.
A: People are awesome and weird. An old granny literally stopped her car at the top of a hill, waited for us to get close (which took awhile), and hobbled out to us with a bar of chocolate and a half-full bottle of orange juice. Half full! Like, the other three octogenarians in the car had been drinking it, then saw us struggling up the hill and decided that we probably needed it more. Hilarious. A few days ago when we were making our way into San Francisco, three separate people asked us whether we needed somewhere to spend the night in the course of an hour. And they all seemed really, truly bummed when we told them that we already had a place lined up. We even spent the night with the local transient population last night (more on that later), and they were just fine. So, the moral of the story is that talking to strangers is okay, no gun required.
We Miss Beer.
A: Not in a concerning alcoholic kind of way, but in a want to sit down with your friends at the neighborhood dive bar kind of way. You’ve probably noticed that drinking a beer is an exciting event for us on this trip, and that’s largely because we’ve had about four beers between the two of us since we left. Alcohol is heavy to carry, and we never seem to remember to grab any until after we’ve set up camp, by which point we’re usually too tired. Which is okay, and is making us skinny and all. But still, a cold beer at the end of a day’s ride would be nice.
T: Just to clarify, when Alex says that WE are too tired to grab any alcohol, she means that SHE is too tired to grab any. Once the tent is up, I don’t have a problem to give into my urges and go on a little ride to the store, whether it is for beer, chips, or jelly beans (if you haven’t guessed, junk food is kind of my Achilles heel). But the reality is, when we are riding all day, I don’t really miss anything, I am too lost in the simple joy of riding my bike along the scenic vistas. Sure, sometimes the riding sucks, but the cravings for alcohol or other non-essential groceries don’t come until we’ve hit the campground. That’s when I realize that eating mac and cheese and drinking only water isn’t necessarily always the right way to enjoy our off-bike time. In those moments, I have to submit to the German in me, pop open a bottle, say Prost, down that brew and be content with what I have. Kind of like the bearded guy from the Dos Equis commercials, just younger and with less wrinkles.