by Alex Hardesty
Last summer my stepbrother and I decided to embark on a 2,300 mile bike tour around the Northwest of the United States as a part of our “post college graduation I don’t know what I’m doing with my life hiatus.” Neither of us had any bike touring experience, but with our early 20’s athleticism and youthful insanity, we decided it was a wise decision. After surviving three flat tires, poison oak, and the worst thunderstorm of our lives (all in the first 24 hours) we were skeptical of our decision but pursued nonetheless. It only took a week for me to fall in love with life on the bike, and I was excited about the freedom that summer had to offer. Beyond the relentless humor, swimming in cold bodies of water, and copious amounts of beer, a few supplies got me through thick and thin, and others I wish I had brought. There are many valuable advice columns and packing lists from experienced bike tourers one can find online, but here are my two cents I gathered from spending two and a half months in the saddle.
What I brought and LOVED
By no means does this list encompass my entire gear inventory. I just wanted to highlight a few items that I used often and was grateful I had with me.
Surly Disc Trucker, duh...
Adventure Cycle Maps: I used these to plan my entire tour and lived by them 24/7
Small candle lantern
Extra charging cell
Tenkara fly rod
Aeropress coffee maker
Elaborate spice kit
Flask (full of your favorite whiskey)
https://www.warmshowers.org I’ll leave this here for your exploration. The hospitality is phenomenal.
What I sent home/didn’t need
Water filter: Surprised? I certainly was. My step-bro dropped ours in a high velocity creek on the second day of our tour, so we didn’t really have a choice here. Serendipitously, we found we had very little need for a filter because there was water almost everywhere. Oh ya and those Adventure Cycling Maps that I LOVE also indicate the nearest water sources and the miles in between. We had iodine tablets but never used those either. We carried large bladders in addition to our water bottles to for extra H2O on the longer stretches.
Jerseys: The fact of bike touring is that you will be dirty. Showers are few and far between. The sunscreen, sweat, dirt, blood, tears, regrets, and dreams will all become a part of your new, superstar cycling self. I started with 3 jerseys and three shorts and sent home all but one jersey and one pair of biking shorts. As long as you have clean clothes to change into at night, it doesn’t matter what you wear or how bad you smell during the day. Note: Extra underwear is key to this strategy :)
Things I wish I brought
Crazy Creek: This was a big one for me. Each night when we got to our campsite, I craved some sort of back supportive sitting device where I could lean back and read a book. I took to laying on the ground as an alternative, but was constantly envious of the fellow cyclists who sacrificed the extra pound of weight for a comfortable, compatible chair with back support. Crazy Creek is a great option, and they can also double as a sleeping pad if you don’t mind your feet hanging off the end of your backcountry mattress.
Clipless platform combo super duper pedals: During the day, clipless pedals are fantastic to give that extra push and pull up the hills. But when you’re riding from the campsite to take a dip in the lake, brewery hopping in Missoula, or cruising to the nearest ice cream shop to devour your personal pint of the day, platform pedals are a luxury. The solution? Clipless platform combo super duper pedals! And yes, that name was invented on the spot by Levi Teal.
Sun protective arm “warmers:” The sun is intense. Especially when you spend 10 hours riding through Eastern Washington with no tree coverage. I took to layering on 20% zinc oxide sunscreen every two hours. I saw a lot of people using these protective arm sleeves and wish I had brought some for my sun sensitive skin. They probably would save you money on sunscreen in the long run too.
What I saw other people bring and thought, meh...
Solar Charger: This one is a contentious subject for those doing long bike tours on pavement. In my own biased opinion, I think they are unnecessary because we had no issue finding outlets, even in more remote areas. However, I also used the “outdated” paper maps for all but a few miles of my tour, so if you’re a super duper techie, don’t take my advice on this one.
At the end of the day, your gear will be a personal reflection of what you value most while spending time off the grid. For me, that includes luxuries such as fishing, reading, and cooking with all the spices I use at home. Another list may include the most comfortable sleeping pad or dare I say a solar charger. Everyone values something different after 100 miles on a bike, and that is one of the great joys of touring. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate something small that goes unnoticed in our everyday lives. Ride on.