Above: the author (right) and his brother (left) at the American Gothic House and Museum in Iowa. 2010.
How To Bike Tour
I get a lot of questions from people asking how I can bike for one or two or three thousand miles. Like most things, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine it to be.
First of all, bike touring is - should be - fun. Bike touring, for me at least, isn’t about climbing the steepest road or riding the farthest, it’s about seeing new things and doing it at a comfortable pace so I can enjoy it. A comfortable pace is key, since the activity is aerobic but I want to be able to take in the sights instead of focusing solely on my heart rate. I take a lot of rest days, sometimes as often as every two or three days, just to give my legs a break and enjoy a new town a bit more thoroughly.
Second, bike touring IS exercise, but it’s not like calisthenics or sprinting. If you can climb three flights of stairs without getting winded, you can bike for four or five or nine or ten hours a day. Again, a comfortable pace is paramount. I never push myself for the sake of exercise (in fact, I only push myself when I need to get to a town or shelter). Likewise, I always make sure to fuel up appropriately. It’s easy to go through a gallon of water and 8 or 9 thousand calories a day on a bike tour.
Third, since biking is exercise, proper equipment and form are essential. You can cause your body permanent damage riding on the wrong equipment or with the wrong form, and the two often go hand-in-hand. I read a lot about bikes, touring, and the body before I began touring, because nothing ruins a day-long ride (or an entire trip) like getting sidelined due to a back spasm or knee blowout.
And of course, it’s important to take plenty of pictures, as above.
Day 10: Ocean City, NJ to Stafford Township, NJ (57 miles)
On this day I will again swing inland from the coast, after riding through famous Atlantic City. Since I can’t take my bike on the Garden State Parkway, I’ll trip a bit further inland to the next river crossing in Lower Bank, then head back toward the coast. This detour will add about 17 miles to my ride that day! And I won’t actually make it back to the coast at day’s end, since the spit of land containing Beach Haven, Long Beach, and Surf City does not connect by road to the north. So I’ll probably find a hotel near Stafford Township and aim to see the ocean the next day. Complicated!
Day 9: Ocean City, MD to Ocean City, NJ (60 bike miles)
Delaware is the first of states so small I won’t even stay the night. Starting the morning in Maryland, I’ll ride up the eastern coast of Delaware and take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry (a $10 trip) across the Delaware Bay and to mainland New Jersey. Hugging the coast will take me through a number of beach towns as I approach Atlantic City. If I stay in Ocean City, NJ, it’ll be the second Ocean City in as many nights XD
Day 8: Onancock, VA to Ocean City, MD (69 miles)
After only two nights in Virginia, I’ll enter Maryland and head again for the coast. Ocean City is a major tourist destination in summer, its boardwalk attractive hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. I bet lodging is gonna be expensive, so I’ll do my best to find a campsite or a couchsurfing host or something inexpensive.
Day 7: Virginia Beach, VA to Onancock, VA (81 miles)
A short beach ride will take me to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, where a shuttle will transport me for $12, since bikes aren’t allowed on the bridge-tunnel system. From there, it’s a straight shot on US 13 almost the whole way up the cape. There are a number of hotels in the Onancock area, which will make my last night in Virginia comfortable.
Day 6: Kitty Hawk, NC to Virginia Beach, VA (78 miles)
After nearly 350 miles of North Carolina, I will finally enter Virginia on this day. I’ll say goodbye to the Outer Banks and pedal through the Great Dismal Swamp, turning inland to cross the state line before aiming for the coast again. There’s a KOA in Virginia Beach I think I’ll stay at. The Norfolk/Chesapeake area is pretty built up, and I’d like to swing around developed, urban areas as much as possible.
Why the east coast?
Mostly because I’ve never spent any time there.
I grew up on the California coastline, which I know intimately. When I’ve been to the east coast, it’s been to spend time in cities - DC, New York, Boston. The actual eastern coastline I’ve never seen, which is all the rationale I need for going.
I figure I’ll cruise up the Outer Banks, then up the Virginia Capes, along the coast of Delaware, the length of Long Island, ferry to the mainland, and finally around Cape Cod before taking a final ferry into Boston.
I’ve been told that the east and west coast differ pretty dramatically; whereas the coastal range dominates much of the west coast, the east coast is flat. Windier, too, especially on the Outer Banks, which is why the Wright Brothers chose to test their planes at Kitty Hawk. Even the primary wind direction is mirrored, with the west coast’s winds coming from the northwest while the east coast’s winds dominate from the southeast. Of course, this is speaking very generally.
I’m starting in North Carolina in part because I don’t have much interest in the coastline south of there, but mostly because that’s where I had to stop riding two years ago.