Travel Tip: Any bike's a touring bike
Before graduating to two-wheelers, I had to apprentice by driving tractor.
When I was twelve and growing up in Iowa, a friend and I were granted permission to ride our bikes out to a nearby state park where my family was camping for the weekend. The distance was only 7 or 8 miles, over low-traffic paved and gravel roads, so our parents weren’t too concerned about us riding in traffic.
Though it wasn't necessary, we wanted to haul our own sleeping bags and other personal gear -- a change of clothes, toothbrush, rain jacket, etc. -- all of which fit, if not neatly, into our canvas Boy Scout knapsacks. Our sleeping bags were the old bulky kind, not today's easily squishable down-filled variety.
Off we went, on Friday afternoon, packs on our backs. Freedom!
Now, a lot of people think Iowa is flat, but that does not include anyone who has participated in the uber-popular RAGBRAI. Those many thousands who have bicycled across the state know Iowa is hilly. Especially around the river valleys, like the valley of the Des Moines River, where my friend and I were headed. Getting to the valley bottom was easy and fun; getting out of it two days later was neither easy nor all that much fun. We had to walk, pushing our bikes for a mile or two. (Truth be told, we would have accepted a ride home in the car, but lack of room for the bikes precluded that option.)
I didn’t comprehend it back then, but my buddy and I had become bicycle travelers. We were using our bikes to self-propel ourselves to a destination. And we sure didn’t have specialized touring bicycles, if such a thing even existed in 1963. My bike was a Schwinn Tiger, a two-speed with coaster brakes. Technically, it featured a Bendix two-speed automatic “kickback” hub; I gently backpedaled to shift gears. I don’t recall what brand of bike my friend was on, but I do know that with two gears I had twice as many as he had.
A rather long way of making my point, which is: Any bike is a touring bike. Don’t resist tackling a Bike Overnight simply because you think that old beater in the garage isn’t up to it. Pump up the tires or, if necessary, equip the bike with new tires and tubes; lube the chain; tighten the bolts. Then hit the road or trail. You can carry your gear in a small backpack like we did, or add a rack or basket to your bike. Heck, you can even make gear-hauling panniers out of spent kitty litter boxes!
A lot of people get hung up on fancy bicycles and expensive gear. Maybe you're already one of them. If not, my advice is to leave any potential obsessing for later, and enjoy a Bike Overnight right now, with what you already have.
Photo by Max McCoy