Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pacific Tour Reflections (I have 20/20 vision, so hind-sight is 20/12)

It feels really really good to be home again. I landed around 8:45 last Saturday, assembled my bike, disposed of my cardboard boxes, and caught the bus back to Denver. It just felt good to see familiar sights--the airport I've been to a million times, the downtown area, the pepsi center, Invesco Field, my bike route I take from downtown to my house, my house, Javier who was inside watching tv when I arrived, struggling to speak to him in spanish, my own bed, a good shower, all those little details that I take for granted when I get them every day.

Anyways, I felt like it would be appropriate to reflect upon my tour as a whole.

It was really cool to see how I transformed physically as I moved south. A great part about touring is that you get in better shape as you progress. My attitude towards hills shifted greatly as I progressed. I was afraid of them at first, not knowing how well I would be able to ride them, but eventually I started looking at hills as something that I just didn't like doing. I knew I could do them, but just didn't want to. Then my attitude completely shifted to actually enjoying climbs, churning along in first gear in order to conquer the hill. I started seeing them as a challenge that I wanted to test my body against.

After having some knee pain myself, the most important thing I would tell someone who is thinking about touring is to make sure your bike fits you properly. Cycling is very low impact, so it's really hard to injure yourself and it's incredibly good exercise for your knees...if your bike properly fits you. My seat was too low to start with and I ended up having some pretty bad knee pain before I got to Oregon. I lifted my seat little by little until the pain went away, but it would have been better for my bike to have been set up correctly before I left. You can really kill your knees if you don't make the adjustments you need to make. Another piece of advice I would give is to make sure you train. First of all, it will just make everything easier, but it will also prevent knee injury. A guy I rode with for a day named John didn't train at all. He exercised regularly, but his knees were not used to the kind of work out they get when riding a bike. He started his tour with a 100 mile day and had excruciating knee pain the next day. For the most part, knee injury is one of the worst things that can happen on a tour and it can be prevented by training, correct fit, higher cadence, and lower gears.

Before the tour, I wasn't a huge fan of camping. It was always cold, uncomfortable, and annoying to set up and take down camp. All the inconveniences of camping made me not like it that much. But after I got used to sleeping in a tent every night I started loving camping. It's pretty much awesome. There's something cool about carrying your house with you, knowing that you could set up camp anywhere. The cool temperatures at night are actually awesome as long as you have a good sleeping bag and warm clothes. The noises like wind in the trees and waves are wonderful to fall asleep to. The sun's schedule forces you to go to bed early and wake up early, giving you the perfect amount of sleep. After getting used to it, all the great things about camping blinded me to the inconvenient things about camping. So now I love camping.

If you asked me what my favorite part of the tour was, I probably would tell you that it was meeting so many interesting people. I'm not an outgoing person, but I met a ridiculous number of people in the 40 days I was riding. My favorite people were always the people I met at the campgrounds who were on a bike tour themselves. There was such a good camaraderie between all the cyclists. We always made friends with each other and hung out with each other for the evening. So many people invited me to join them at their campfire. Some people gave me food. One person gave me a chain cleaning lesson. One person washed my dishes for me. Several people joined me for dinner. It was really great. There were also lots of people not on a bike that I met. Some cheered me on from their cars. Some gave me popcorn, brownies, ice cream, waffles, bananas, sandwiches, carrots, and a yard to sleep in. Some gave me wine and a 2 hour conversation. Most of the people I saw were very nice and I liked them a lot. There were very few people who were rude or mean to me.

Even though the tour was a fantastic experience, there are some things that I would do differently. Here's a list of technologies that could be improved upon: More comfortable saddle, more waterproof and smaller tent, and a better sleeping pad. My route that I took was pretty awesome, but if I did the tour again, I would probably cut over to Olympia National Park instead of going through the boring part of Washington to get to Portland (I'd just make Justin meet me in Tillamook or something). The last thing I would do different is to bring a friend. It was a great tour, even by myself, but it would be a cool thing to be able to share the memory with someone else.

I don't think I gained any huge revelations through my tour, but I did learn some things. Washington made me realize that my circumstances are completely at the mercy of God. I have no control over the rain. I have no control over whether the wind is a headwind or a tailwind. I happen to think that those things are God's decisions and that the only reason there is ever a break in the rain or a lack of a tail wind is because of God's grace and has nothing to do with anything I could ever control.

The tour has also made me want to be a better steward of the things that God has given me. I had to be very intentional about the things that I bought. Every item that I acquired added more weight to my already heavy load, so I tried to just use what I had and not buy extra stuff. An example of this would be my desire I had to buy a frying pan. It would have been pretty nice to have one to cook fresh meat in instead of always eating the canned stuff. But my insight came when I sat there and thought about it. How much would I use it? How much enjoyment would I get out of it? Do I need it? Do I really want to have the extra weight? I decided not to buy one and was just content with the tall, skinny jet boil pot. This is kind of a stupid example, but because of my limited capacity and limited budget, I realized that at the time it was just a luxury that I'd be fine without. Back home, I realized that riding around the city without a load was super easy compared to with a heavy load. Why don't I just ride my bike everywhere? This would be easy compared to riding 50 miles per day with a load. So I decided not to buy a bus pass. God gave me a bike, which works just fine for transportation, so why not just use what I have and save the money I would spend on a bus pass?

So I can't say that my tour really changed me as a person, but it has given me a different point of view on some things. The tour has made me love cycling more though. I'm already thinking about what tour I want to do next because this one was such a good experience that I wouldn't want to leave my touring career and call it good at a tour. I'll definitely be doing some very short bike camping trips and some long tours in the future. Who wants to come?!

This concludes my Pacific tour-related blog posts. Stay tuned for my normal blog posts about random things that I feel like writing about.

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