Southern Virginia Tandem Bike Tour Lessons Learned and Wrap-Up Post

Writing during the journey is always a bit different than what comes to mind after a bike tour ends. The week has given me time to reflect on the trip we had, and I wanted to throw up some summary observations, assessments, and lessons learned from our recent jaunt around southern Virginia on our Cannondale tandem.

Felkerino and me, bike touring with the Cannondale, Carradice Camper, and two small Ortliebs

Totals

  • 8 days
  • 636 miles
  • Average mileage: 79.5 miles per day
  • Longest day: 105.6 miles
  • Shortest day: 68 miles

Tour Terrain.

Our tour started out with two days of pleasant valley riding, with the remaining six described in terms other than pleasant. Awesome, challenging, inspiring, swift, knee-achingly slow, gorgeous.

You can get a sense of our terrain through the posts I wrote during our tour so I won’t bother explaining them further here. Suffice it to say, we set up eight solid days of touring in some choppy landscape.

Felkerino on one of the back roads after descending Potts Mountain

Food.

Riding worked our bodies so that by the fourth day of our tour, I was surprised by how often I felt hungry. The furnace called my stomach was constantly craving more fuel.

Even though I wrote about food being sparse along the Blue Ridge Parkway, over most of our trip we figured out food pretty well, and enjoyed some delicious dinners in the various towns we stopped.

I think all the miles we rode each day made any food we ate along the way extra tasty. It was tough to get back to regular life knowing that it was back to stocking up at the grocery store and cooking our own meals.

Felkerino also brought along several Clif bars (8-10, maybe?), and a few Clif shot blocks. I don’t know how many of those he ate, but I ended up only eating one Clif bar out of his stash. Other than that, I was able to get what I needed from convenience stores and other places we stopped for sustenance along the way.

On vacation, who wants to spend vacation eating pocket food? Not me, that’s who! Bring on the pretzels and pop.

Won’t be eating at this convenience store today. Sorry!

Gear.

Navigation. We navigated by Felkerino’s Garmin and paper cue sheets. We used the Garmin to help with our planned routes as well as any spontaneous detours, and it did the job beautifully. Probably paper maps are best, but the Garmin worked well in their absence.

Bags. Summer touring in southern Virginia is great because, compared to touring at other times of year, you don’t need as much clothing to contend with the weather. Felkerino and I used a Carradice Camper to carry our tools (mult-tool, wrenches, and chain tool), spare folding tire, patch kit, and chain lube. Felkerino also packed baby wipes, which come in quite handy for cleaning hands after a mechanical.

Essentials. We each packed a small pannier for our clothing and other miscellaneous essentials, such as first-aid stuff, toothbrush, toothpaste, sunblock, Chamois Butt’r, and floss (I hope my dentist reads this blog).

Shoes. Both Felkerino and I wore Sidi Dominators for our tour. Given that we spent so much time on the bike, we did not pack any non-cycling shoes. We’ve not found them necessary for our tours, since our Sidi’s work fine for any walking around we do.

Hydration. Both of us used Camelbaks to meet our hydration needs. We also carried two water bottles on the bike, but those were used mostly as “just in case” bottles or for sugary drinks like juice or Gatorade.

Felkerino used a Camelbak Charge and I used my trusty Camelbak Rogue. These packs each hold two liters of fluid, and I find that size works well, as it does not add an uncomfortable amount of weight to the back and ensures I have sufficient water for 50+ mile stretches, depending on the heat of the day. These packs also have a couple of convenient pockets for stashing things like cell phones or helmet covers.

Clothes.  Here’s the rundown of my tour wardrobe.

  • 2 pairs of Sugoi RS bike shorts
  • 1 pair of off-the-bike Sugoi knickers
  • 2 Ibex Indie jerseys
  • 1 long-sleeve Brooks polyester base layer
  • 2 sports bras. One, Eastern Mountain Sports, dried fairly quickly post-washand. The other, a Champion Double-Dry was extremely slow to air dry after washing. Any women with quick-drying sports bras that offer good support, please advise!
  • 2 pairs of Smartwool socks
  • 2 headbands
  • 1 pair of Smartwool armwarmers
  • 1 pair of Bouré knee warmers
  • 2 jackets (1 Gore Paclite rain jacket and 1 windshell, made by Vaude)
  • 1 light polyester cycling cap from Walz
  • 1 helmet cover
  • 1 bandana, for miscellaneous uses

During our tour, I wore every article of clothing I packed, except for the helmet cover and the knee warmers which I never needed, but would never tour without. We did not have any particularly rainy days, although we passed through a few showers along the way. I was glad to have the Gore Tex jacket during the downpours. For the cool morning descents on the parkway, I wore my Vaude windbreaker.

I wish that I had not packed the long-sleeve base layer, as it simply wasn’t needed. The two Ibex jerseys worked perfectly for on- and off-the-bike, and if I needed long sleeves I had my armwarmers or my jackets.

Clothing-wise, Felkerino packed similarly so I won’t go into his clothes list. He did not pack a light jacket or vest, and I think that is something that he’ll carry next round. Mornings and downhills could get a little cool. The Gore jacket was overkill for that kind of cool, but a vest would have been just the thing to ward off any chill.

Cameras. I carried two cameras, as well as my cell phone and wallet. That meant I also carried two chargers, one for each camera. One of my cameras is waterproof and the other is not, but takes better pictures. I know that was probably a little excessive, but my thought was “Hey! I’m on vacation! I’m taking lots of pictures on this bike tour and spending most of the day riding around seeing the sites so I’m taking both!”

Felkerino also carried his own camera and charger. I know we could get by with one camera between us both, but we both like taking pictures, having our own memories of each day, and seeing what each other chose to photo.

Assessment by the Grade. I know that grading is subjective and probably does not suit the essence of bike touring, but in order to give you a sense of how I thought our tour went and to discuss areas of improvement, I’m using the good old A-F grading scale. 

Gear-wise. B+.

I think Felkerino and I did pretty well. When we first started touring together, we carried so much stuff! We used four panniers, chock full of on-bike clothes, off-bike blothes, Tevas, you name it. It was ridiculous. Since then, we’ve reduced our weeklong needs to the setup you see. Two front small Ortliebs and the rear Carradice. If we were camping, we would need to add some to that, but I don’t know how much additional space it would require.

Next tour I would force myself to choose one camera versus taking both. I’d ditch the long-sleeve base layer. I’d tell Felkerino not to pack so many Clif bars (even though he saved me from a bonk with the one that he generously gave me).

Mileage-wise. Again, I give us a passing grade. A!

Our last day was too long for my druthers (105.6 miles, and most of it on the Blue Ridge Parkway), but our overall average of 79 miles per day was reasonable. We usually left around nine a.m. and eased our way into town at 6:30 or so. We’d shower, wash our clothes, eat, prep for the next day, and head off to sleep.

Rides of that length allowed me to enjoy the day and feel comfortable stopping whenever I wanted. I never felt like we had to hurry. I did have one moment (or two) on the last day of our tour when I wondered if we would ever get there, but we kept on pedaling and the feeling went away (when we finally got there, ha!).

Hey, would you be interested in captaining a tandem? Like, right now?


Terrain and Route Choice
. Still passing, but I grade us a B here.

After our first two days, we climbed into some pretty hilly stuff and stayed in that hilly stuff (with the exception of a welcome reprieve along Wolf Creek during our fifth day of riding) until our ride concluded. This week, I’ve felt a little ache in the back of my left knee, and I suspect that Felkerino is dealing with some post-ride pain as well. Post-ride pain is never good, especially that which lingers.

Next time, I’d like to find a few more valley roads to make sure we’re taking care of our knees. However, I will say that I loved the hilly areas we passed, especially those outside of Floyd by Indian Valley. They were unforgettably beautiful, not only in the steepness of their grade but in their views and peacefulness. That was sublime riding.

Notes for the future. I talked about this in a previous post, but I do think that this camping business warrants exploration. I read lots of blogs and hear lots of stories about people who camp and just love it. Camping intimidates me, but I want to try it. I don’t know how this would alter our tour experience, but it appeals to me to think of the possible flexibility we would not have by riding fully contained. We would not have to rely the same way on reaching a specific destination each night, and at first glance, it seems much more economical.

On the other hand, it’s easy to think about camping after an eight-day tour that had only a few rainy spells throughout and the one evening it rained overnight we were inside a warm hotel snoring away. I’d love to learn more about doing it, though, so if anyone has any good pointers please send them my way.

20 thoughts on “Southern Virginia Tandem Bike Tour Lessons Learned and Wrap-Up Post”

  1. Nice work with the analysis and summary.

    Although it’s a bit further afield, the Route Verte in the province of Quebec is worthy of a bike tour. Well done infrastructure, excellent mapping and notes, and for the most part the routes aren’t too stupid hilly, a nice reprieve from the usual brevet fare.

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  2. I have to admit when you mentioned “pocket food,” that I thought of Hot Pockets. :)

    This is a great primer for bike touring– thanks for sharing what you do. I would think camping would provide its own challenges with carrying that gear, but I would love to do it someday.

    I like my Moving Comfort sports bra– excellent support, and easy to care for. I have the Vixen, but I was thinking of getting one with clasps in the front or back.

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  3. Sports bras: Try Nux, Falke, and Road Runner Sports.
    Camping: There is some additional flexibility, but not 100%, unless you’re willing to do guerilla camping. Plus the extra weight on the back of the bicycle is non-negligible. People always mention that. What they don’t mention is that you will also have a wider load and more wind resistance. But if you want to try it, I have a tent, sleeping bag, and thermarest pad you can borrow. Plus get a pack towel if you don’t already have one.

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    1. Thanks for the sports bra ideas, and regarding the gear, I might take you up on that sometime… I have wondered how much extra weight the gear would actually be and what it would feel like.

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  4. Having done both camping and B&B tours, I land firmly on the side of B&Bs. But, it depends where you’re touring and the time of year. If it’s remote with few facilities then you have to make your mileage if you’re not camping. If it’s a more populated area, who says you have to make your mileage? It means being a little looser with your lodging and checking vacancies in the morning near your estimated destination but it’s extremely rare not to find a place to stay. When it rains for three days straight and you’re squashing mosquitos every night in the tent then having to prepare meals at the campsite you might yearn for the great indoors. As suggested above, do an overnight. The hiker/biker sites on the C&O are easy and close.

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  5. Nice final assessment of an experience that’s spawned an excellent series of articles. I’ve very much enjoyed reading them. All I can say is, “Wow. Respect!” Being reasonably familiar with the terrain in several areas you rode, the demands it places on cyclists, and an informed guess as to the demands it places on a loaded tandem team, I’m seriously impressed. Y’all rock!

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  6. Yo Mary. I want to be on the back of a triplet with you and Felkerino. You guys do it right, and i could take a B&B every so often, because I smell like the Chesapeake every few days. Congrats. I’m jealous of your temperate adventures.

    nicholas

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    1. All of us on a triplet is quite the image. YOU, my friend, are the hard core and I LOVE reading about your bike travels. Glad to read your recent post about camping/sleeping gear, as I am taking notes for the day I’m brave enough to head out there w/out a hotel reservation.

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  7. I’ve been neglecting my blog this summer so it’s not published (yet?), but I did my first “tour” solo in July. Left one Friday morning and rode from home thru B’more, crossed the Conowingo Dam and camped overnight in a state park in northern DE. Slept in a hammock, no tent. Then down the state of DE Saturday. My family met me in Lewes to start our week long vacation.

    I carried no cooking gear or other means to prepare food. I stopped for dinner in town before I reached the park and had enough “pocket food” to get me to the first town on my route in the morning where I then stopped for a proper breakfast.

    Biggest draw back: mid-July humidity guaranteed NOTHING that I washed would dry overnight. Having camped extensively without a bike, I anticipated this and had a change of bike clothes. But I was appalled that my Carradice Camper was bulging for a one night adventure. Though that was without a pannier.

    Also that was 100 miles day one and 90 miles day two, so I did feel like I had a schedule to keep.

    Next time i bike camp I’m going in the autumn and seeking weather like we have today. If I try it again mid summer it will be B&B for me.

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    1. Cool! The no-cooking plan is something I’ve thought about as well. It would get me into at least the wading pool camping zone… I’ve also wondered how Felkerino and I would carry stuff for two on one bike. Bags fill fast, no? We’d figure it out I’m sure.

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  8. This is the sports bra that I like best – comfortable and dries fast on tour.http://www.teamestrogen.com/prodSZ_N109.html

    This tour sounded wonderful. I have done supported bike tours where I’ve camped every night – but “supported” meant that a truck carried the camping gear and meals were either provided or we walked (1/4 mile to mile each way) to get dinner. Still, even supported, after 80-90 miles of riding, putting up the tent, walking some distance back and forth to the shower, walking some distance back and forth to the bathroom (even in the middle of the night), packing it all up in the morning, rain some part of the time – it can make me wish for an inside room and inside bathroom!

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    1. Thanks, Joan, for the recommendation! To me, 80-90 miles is a lot to ride in one day when you still have to set up and take down stuff. And rain or other weather… that’s part of what makes me uncertain/chicken about camping.

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  9. wow, just wow! great write-up and pics, it’s interesting to know all the details of your tour. Your distances are an inspiration, too! I need to try and get my mileage up… I can’t imagine yet doing 100+ in a day, amazing.

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