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.
- 8 days
- 636 miles
- Average mileage: 79.5 miles per day
- Longest day: 105.6 miles
- Shortest day: 68 miles
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.