Picture this: You love to bike and you love to travel, but you probably don’t love the oft associated costs of airfare and/or gasoline. If that’s the way you feel, then you and I probably have something in common. I got the itch to try my hand (legs?) at bicycle touring a couple of years ago and as a student who’s always looking for the next adventure while simultaneously trying to balance a tight budget, the conditions have been perfect for adventuring by bicycle!
I decided to start my trip just outside of Gainesville, Florida, where conveniently I had a good friend to visit and also a place to safely leave my car! Since couchsurfing each night omitted the need for camping gear, I just filled up my 2 panniers with warm clothes, snacks, and essentials. A stocked fanny pack (they’re cool these days) with a ration of snacks and supplies had me ready for the road. I took off on day 1 for some 60 odd miles from Melrose to Jacksonville. The touring highlight for the day? I learned how to bike through sand …though maybe not how to enjoy it.
This began my first of 2 days down the coast. The Spanish moss covered trees and river through Jacksonville were beautiful, but I was looking forward to seeing the Atlantic. On day 2, I realized that what I eat for lunch isn’t as important as where I eat my lunch, so vowed to only eat at sufficiently worthy spots the rest of the trip. I think I did pretty well. Final destination: St. Augustine, 50 some miles.
Polar vortex in Florida, suckers! Day 3 was definitely the highlight of the trip! The history of St. Augustine was beautiful, and I kept that going by stopping for a free ferry ride and tour of a fort on my way down the coast. The weather was chilly, but the sun was out and the wind at my back made it perfect biking weather. Still, I was ready to warm up by the time I got to my host’s home in Daytona Beach, about 50 miles in.
My previous three days hadn’t been too challenging, with the wind at my back, no hills, and an unhurried pace. Therefore I planned a slightly longer route to get into Orlando, going out of my way to be on more bike paths. This route taught me first hand the importance of path/lane connectivity and I ended up on some less than hospitable roads between the havens of tree-lined bike paths. Overall I biked some 70 odd miles and got to my destination well after dark.
Orlando was my last stop, but it turns out where I was staying was still a good 15 miles from downtown! From here, I was planning to bus back to my car in Gainesville, but didn’t consider the logistics of actually getting my bike on a bus until I was almost to Orlando. My online research led me to a “no bikes on buses” megabus policy. Whoops, maybe should have looked that up before buying a ticket. Greyhound on the other hand allows bikes only as long as they’re in a box. So great, if I could get my hands on a box, get that box to the greyhound station, and get my bike in the box, I could get back to Gainesville! Which is what I somehow pulled off.
The more I talk to people about it, the more I hear people start to consider taking a trip too. Maybe it just takes a little bit of inspiration/motivation, but I definitely encourage everyone to break out their panniers, egg crates, or kitty litter bins and see where the road will take you!
Not comprehensive list of touring resources:
Adventure Cycling Association – planned routes across this county and many others
crazyguyonabike - all sorts of things
couchsurfing.org - how I found great people to hang out with and stay with for free!
warmshowers.org - similar to couchsurfing, but specific to bike tourers!
Google maps bicycle trip planner/street view function
*Side note – 79% of Adventure Cycling Association subscribers are male so either men tour more or aspire to tour more (source). Any other ladies out there want to change those demographics?