Romantic Bicycle Touring: A Primer – Ultra Romance

Romantic Bicycle Touring: A Primer
Words and photos by Ultra Romance

You can witness all the beauty there is to see in this fine world: Yanni live at the Acropolis, the Venice beach boardwalk, or simply the Sistine Chapel, for example.

While encountering these wonders alone is undoubtedly inspiring and majestic, these enchanting destinations and undulating waves of road in between are enhanced roughly 70-80% of the time when the experience is shared. Add in the romantic element, and that analytic bumps up to roughly 86%, yet fluctuates down to 20% at times. That’s still pretty good!

With the popularity of bicycle touring on the rise in recent years, and justifiably so, the amount of “I’d rather be doing that” inspirational social media content has increased exponentially. It doesn’t take a masters degree in internet browsing to stumble across countless photos of glossy eyed 86% happy couples posing for duck face selfies with their laden touring rigs amidst a backdrop of the romantic unknown.

I must admit, I have gazed at these photos before, incurring wide eyed dreams of one day waking up in the dirt beside a real, tangible lover. Instead I continued to keep company with the likes of my ol’ faithful laminated 8×10 of Matthew McConaughey, propped up next to my inflatable pillow at night. Even still, I continued to tell myself “Bené, you’re tall, strikingly handsome, muscular, your hair is #1, and you have two amazing Instagram accounts… don’t get greedy, you can’t have it all!” And so I was settled into my ways. Just me and my McCaughey laminate, rubbing woolen elbows with the world and it’s mysteries.

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3 years ago I met Nâm. After moving to this country in the 90s, she had grown up nutmeg shoreline, just like me, and just 15 minutes away. Much like myself, she had bounced around for much of her adult life, and through both of our bouncings, we bounced into one another. Right there in nutmeg country. She had been a cyclist for environmental or economical reasons in the past, and certainly had an innate instinct to roam. But still, as our relationship evolved she was in school and could not simply leave for weeks and months on end like the freedoms my fishing job and modeling career afforded me. So that was a bit of a problem at times. I found myself torn between spending more time with the woman I was growing to love, and the lifestyle I knew I already loved. “Bené, your hair is #1. You can’t have it all!”

Well long rom-com story short, I really wanted her to come out and tour with me. After a few test runs last year, and Nâm graduating last spring, we decided that now (2 months ago) was the time. We ended our rental, she quit her job, and we both got rid of a bunch of stuff (not any bike parts tho!) The purging process can be intoxicating and stressful, but mostly intoxicating. Getting rid of all my pewter fantasy figurines was the hardest part for me, personally. Or maybe my hallmark precious moments collection? Or was it my felicity DVDs? Now I’m getting stressed out.

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So off we were to the enchanting Southwest with our bikes and gear jammed into cardboard boxes. That’s basically my reality every 3 weeks or so, but for Nâm, this was something entirely new. When introducing a partner to extended touring, this is something that cannot be overlooked. This is the transitioning process from the comforts of modern life, to the gradually learned comforts of modern touring. Things like a Craftmatic adjustable ionized water bed, a fine yogurt sampler platter, and Netflix are suddenly just memories, and the climate controlled biodome which once felt so necessary for adult living is now replaced with fire, sil-nylon, and a sack filled with feathers… but with a view!

For the trip you are viewing photos of currently, I devised a route that would be easy on both the legs and the eyes. That’s not easy to do, as most of the easy eyeball scrambling happens at the tops of things, and to get to the tops of things you know what you have to do. So that part was maybe a little trailing at times, causing and affecting many of the moral fluctuations down to 20% enjoyment levels. I dragged her up a few passes above 13,000 ft, and it took a while, but we did it. However, these experiences did spawn the priceless quote from Nâm: “this is the worst day of my entire life, and I’m a refugee!”

Soooo…. sounds fun, right??? Well here are some helpful tips to get you and yours on the way with 2 tickets to see Yanni LIVE at the Acropolis.

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Set realistic goals: It’s way too easy to bite off more than you can chew cuz the idea of seeing all this cool stuff and covering ultra mileage sounds so delicious. Well, in actuality, for a first timer, even a 4th timer, that approach is painful, and morale crushing. Try taking a comfortable mileage that you can do unloaded, and then cut it in half. That’s a realistic goal! Rememberer you are going to be doing this day after day after day on heavy bikes and on little sleep, assuming you aren’t a seasoned ground sleeper. It’s supposed to be fun!

Find camp before dark: When yer mile melting and grooving hard into that fleeting golden light, it’s easy to forget that you are chasing the sun, and the sun always wins. Before you know it, it’s cold and dark, and you have nowhere to sleep. 

A good camp spot is your reward for a hard day, and for me personally, it’s the best part of touring. This is where you are gonna get yer fire going and cook up yer goulash, do smokables, stare at the fire, and talk about feelings.

This is also where you are gonna sleep, and hopefully for a long time. Sleep is regenerative, without it yer face will resemble a goblin’s and yer body will loathe every mile the following day. You need daylight to insure you find a quiet, flat spot where you can really zzzzz out. 

Use the satellite function on your google maps, or an offline satellite view app if yer away from service. Look to see if the spot you’ve chosen, or area aiming for is far enough away from any houses, or better yet in a nice stand of trees where you can be stealth and hidden.

In reality there is very little to worry about, but mentally I always find being hidden away does wonders for my overall feeling of safety while camping on the road. Also try and find some cover to sleep under. It will save you a lot of drying time in the morning as dewy nights are inevitable. 



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Assign camp chores: This happens naturally most of the time. After a few nights you’ll both know what yer good at. In our situation, I prep the food and do the cooking, while Nam gathers and breaks up 10x her body weight in wood. She loves burning things, I like cooking things. So symbiotic! What used to take me hours to do every night alone, now just takes half those hours. That’s nice after a long day. 


Apparel: Ride and live in natural fibers. Popular belief is that you need a chamois to ride a bike long distance. This is unfounded, and in reality, an unwashed chamois is a virile Petri dish just waiting to give you an undercarriage boil the size of Donald Trump’s face, yet most likely not as ugly. Get sum merino wool underwear, sum durable shorts, and sit on a hammock style saddle such as a Brooks B17. You won’t have to wash yer clothes really, and you can figure out for yourself how comfortable you are with that.

Cleanliness: My program every night is to hang my clothes and get em smoked out by the fire. Burning pine produces antimicrobial smoke that will “clean” yer already naturally antimicrobial wool clothing. The crux of my grooming program is hovering my bare undercarriage over the fire as it reduces to embers at the end of the night. We call this “cauterizing”. It might sound novel, but practically everyone I’ve turned onto this technique swears by it. It makes sure everything is dry down there before you tuck in for the night. Feels sooooo good too! Trust me!

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Pack light: My first tour was on a mountain bike with an prototype extra cycle attached to the rear. It was a questionable set up, prone to mechanicals… but in my defense, there were very few resources available back then to show me the ways to be #cool.

I had all my things in trash bags, including such seemingly necessary items as: 3 pairs of jeans, 32 oz of lotion, a 50 slot case logic CD book, and 2 Nalgene bottles of self serve peanut butter. I survived off peanut butter, had soft skin, and looked great in those jeans, but all is pointless if yer day to day is the drudgery of hauling a 100lb bike over mountain passes and into remote camp spots. Plus if yer bike is overloaded, then yer likely to have 2-3 times the mechanicals.

You don’t need much out there, and that’s part of the beauty of the experience. That being said, you can always pack what you want and just ship stuff you don’t end up needing home as you wiggle along on yer trip. I suggest you abide by the rule: if you have 4 panniers full of stuff, you may have too much stuff. Only Germans take that much stuff. 



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Budget: touring can be the cheapest way you’ve ever lived, or it can be a hedonist expression of hotel, spa, and restaurant receipts. Both are fine! For the budget traveler, I recommend steering clear of restaurants, and instead spending money on nutrient density from the local co-op. You want high calorie for your dollar kinda stuff. Don’t spend $4 on coffee when you can buy a pound of quinoa for that money and have nearly a day’s worth of food! Also learn to forage. If you eat vegetables, they can be found for free sprouting from just about every roadside. I’ll have a guide to this stuff coming out soonish.

Navigation: Don’t let my sprightly age of 21 years fool you, I began touring long before the digital age. Paper maps were fun, and I used to spend my nights pouring over the next day’s ride while zipped up in my sleeping bag before bed. Now my nights are spent editing photos, ‘grammin, ordering pizzas, watching HBO, and route plotting on 1 of my 3 digital devices that have been drawing power from both my solar chargers and dynamo hub all day. This modern world!

So as someone who has lived through the analog and digital age of travel, I can honestly say: you gotta get a GPS! Wrong turns can be whimsically adventurous and all, but they get old pretty fast after you’ve gone in circles enough to get dizzy. I have used routing apps on my phone for shorter trips with fewer turns, but that method is not purpose built, and will drain yer precious battery before you even get to the woods. And then you can’t ‘gram… so why bother?

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For this trip I used an amalgam of the discontinued Garmin Touring Plus (still found cheaply on eBay), Ride With GPS on my phone with the same route pre loaded, and a paper map if all went wrong. I don’t always use paper maps, but with a beginner on board, I didn’t wanna scar her for life with a costly helicopter extraction if our electronics went Samsung on us.

Epilogue: In closing, I really just want the bicycle trends to continue building stewardship for the outdoors the best way I know how: through self supported immersion in nature, whether it be a weekend in yer back yard, or for a month in the mountains. If done properly, the pace of life is likely exactly what you are looking for. You will return with renewed vitality and perspective on what you need and don’t need in your life. A refreshing doctrine on the ever weirdening world swirling around us. We can all use that from time to time, if not all the time. I just wanna be sure it’s done sustainably and not just as a fad. The best way to do that is to ensure that you are prepared and don’t get caught up in making it into sum kinda “epic” triathlon mindset thing for adventurous golfers.

I get a lot of questions on how to best approach these kinda trips, so hopefully the above tips answer whatever questions the questioners might question.

Happy trails/roads/camps! XOXO

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Follow Benedict on Instagram and Nâm on Instagram. Also, we weren’t kidding, Nâm really is a refugee. See her website at Bike for Tibet.

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  • http://abovemountaintops.tumblr.com/ Tinj

    So good! Looking forward to the roadside veggie guide.

  • Nealipo

    Love this. I hope to get my lady into touring next spring. Thank you for sharing the wisdom.

  • Justin Scoltock

    Excellent write up Poppi. Appreciate the pragmatic/sustainable approach. And good news, you can stream all 4 seasons of Felicity now!

  • Kerry Nordstrom

    Bene, you are a ridiculous human…when does your Netflix original series, “Dr. Coolove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Balm” get released?

  • Andy Harmon

    Excellent write-up and tips! Thanks for sharing! Having just finished a 5 week tour of France with my wife, I know the “worst day of my life” response and it’s real. We took some solo days apart for me to ride up and down hills and her to draw pictures. Solo time is important travelling with your partner!

    • Mark Reimer

      Agreed with this point! I’ve done the same – take a day to wear myself out and she chilled out by a mountain stream and read a book. We all have different ways of ‘relaxing’, don’t force yours on someone else.

      Loved the write up Bene! Still can’t un-see the first time you roasted over the bonfire…and I don’t want to!

  • charlesojones

    Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…
    That and a Lincoln commercial come to mind.

  • Stumpjumper 29R

    Thanks for the tip on Cauterizing, can’t wait to try that technique out amongst friends. Great article.

  • Jack

    Looking forward to trying out this “cauterizing” business, but for anyone who vouches for it: do you need to find a way to hang your GP-approved unmentionables over the embers for some time or does just holding them over it for a few minutes do the trick?

  • Whitney Ford-Terry

    You down with LNT? Yea, you know me. (https://lnt.org)
    Sincerely yours, Debbie Downer

  • André Kniepkamp

    » … Only Germans take that much stuff. 
… «

    Not quite true but very funny.

  • donttest

    Is that a dutch oven (aka footbath soaker, helmnet, bedpad, waterer storer, anchor, hash oil melter) in that fire? I thought I was the only one who toured with one!

    • Juan Cool Romance

      It’s a really big snowpeek ti pot. Haven’t seen one in a while. If you can find one, get it.

      • http://MaxTheCyclist.wordpress.net Max Dilthey

        I found a pair used on eBay for less than the cost of some new Aluminum ones. Keep your eyes open… they’re out there.

  • http://MaxTheCyclist.wordpress.net Max Dilthey

    Couple’s touring is the best!!! Wherever your relationship is going, it’ll get there faster on a bike tour.

    My riding partner is also my partner-partner, Kelley. Eight years of competitive volleyball permanently ruined her ability to quit anything. She totally stepped up to bike touring, so she’s now as fast as I am and twice as ballsy…. she crashed bigtime on a bikepacking trip last weekend on a borrowed Instigator, and nobody knew she was all bruised up because she just kept rolling.

    Here’s Kelley on our Iceland tour this past summer, on an Ogre. She’s on a Krampus Ops now.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8c4ef0c172fa4129ec60672f9f303b058b293ae0d1e84f2e34f27581e0010b14.jpg

    • Juan Cool Romance

      That’s the dream! Now you gotta drop in on one of those lava pits and send it to keep up!

  • Nicholas Tingey

    Who is your underwear sponsor these days? I’ve got a worn out pair of devold’s from Riv I’m looking to replace & curious if there is anything more ultra.

    • http://theradavist.com/ John Watson

      I use Ibex Merino 220 weight for riding, touring and everyday wear. If you have a few pairs that you circulate they last the longest out of other brands – from my experience. Made in the USA too!

      • http://MaxTheCyclist.wordpress.net Max Dilthey

        Seconded, I love Ibex. But, Wool & Prince have a pair of briefs that use an 80/20 Merino/Nylon blend and they just keep going and going for me…

    • Juan Cool Romance

      I am in between right now. The riv ones were the best, but they made no money off em. That’s really a riv business model, so they musta REALLY not made money on em.

    • bushtrucker

      I’m not sure what their postage to the States is like but I can vouch for Smitten for great value Tassie made merino underwear and base-layers.

    • Jack

      I know this was a question for Benedict but I’ve gone through two pairs of Riv stripey ones and one pair of the Devold. The Riv ones were super comfy but they got holes in them pretty quickly. Same with the Devolds. Putting them in the dryer may have had something to do with this. I went with the Smart Wool ones a couple months ago and they have held up better and are almost as comfy (Ultra?) as the Riv ones in my opinion.

  • kimbo305

    Is Benedict really only 21? Wouldn’t that make him 5 or 6 when the digital age started?

    • Juan Cool Romance

      #forever21-37

  • Andy Moore

    Why is (carefully) smoking out your chamois not an option? ;) Wouldn’t that have similar disinfectant effect?

    • Juan Cool Romance

      That would kinda work, or kinda melt! Smoke out everything and see. Worst case you have to experience the magical moments of riding on yer bare saddle, leather on leather

      • Andy Moore

        Haha! Just found this fascinating bit of info re: merino via wilderness wear.au. It offers great scientific support for your selection of both fiber and mode of “cleaning”. Thanks for the great article/tips!

        Fire resistance
        A number of factors contribute to make Merino the most naturally fire resistant of all commonly encountered textiles.

        High ignition temperature
        Merino is less likely to burn than most textiles. Compared to cotton, which catches light at 255 degrees, the temperature must reach 570-600 degrees before Merino will ignite.

        High Limiting Oxygen Index
        In order for fire to be sustained under the standard test conditions used to measure Limiting Oxygen Index, Merino requires a very high level of oxygen – significantly higher than occurs in nature. The proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere is 21%, more than sufficient for cotton, rayon, nylon and polyester to burn. However, Merino requires an oxygen level of 25.2% – more than 4% higher than ambient.

        Low heat of combustion
        When it does burn, Merino releases less heat than common synthetics. Its heat of combustion is a low 4.9 Kcal/g while polyester is 5.7 Kcal/g, cotton is 3.9 Kcal/g and nylon is a very high 7.9 Kcal/g

        Low rate of heat release
        Though cotton has a lower heat of combustion than Merino, its rate of heat release is much higher and the wider fire science community now recognises that it is the rate of heat release that determines the real hazard in fire situations.

        Self-extinguishing
        If Merino does catch alight, it tends to self-extinguish. The Merino fibre contains naturally high levels of nitrogen – an element commonly used as a fire retardant – and when it is heated sufficiently to combust, it tends to produce insulating foam that excludes oxygen and hence puts out the fire.

        Won’t melt
        While polyester melts at 252-292° and nylon succumbs at an even lower 160-260°, Merino never melts so it can’t stick to the skin like many common synthetics, sparing burn victims from significant medical complications.

        Summary
        A high ignition temperature, a low heat of combustion and the necessity for an oxygen level higher than occurs in nature means Merino is less likely to catch alight than most synthetics. But, its low rate of heat release, its tendency to produce a foam that self-extinguishes, and the fact that it never melts further explain why Merino has the highest natural fire resistance of all commonly encountered textile fibres.

  • breed007

    Can’t wait for the article 10 years from now about Benedict deciding to coach his daughter’s soccer team after he’s moved to a Midwestern suburb.

    • http://www.carterspeanutbutter.com carltheyounger

      UltraCoachéür

    • Juan Cool Romance

      I’ll be sure to twine wrap the steering wheel of my mini van in solidarity!

  • http://pntmagazine.com/ PNT

    You could teach this stuff on university Poppi!

    • Juan Cool Romance

      As long as a they give me a titanium laser pointer that I could also disinfect my undercarage with

  • http://www.fyxo.co/ fyxo

    Some bonafide pearls of wisdom above. Happy Trails Bené.

    • Juan Cool Romance
  • pdavis91

    What are those mighty big bike bags yall are rockin?

    • Juan Cool Romance

      Those are the wizard’s sleeve bags I do in conjunction with swift Industries. We’ll have more in a few months

  • John Jewett

    Damn inspiring!!

    Radio, live transmission

  • Ed Holt

    Read that as hoovering.

  • Crmsnghst

    The pressing question is why is your lady friend wearing her helmet while sitting around the fire? In all the touring ive ever done the FIRST thing you do once you hit camp is take off the sweaty helmet and cap. Now that I’ve seen it, I cant unsee.

    • Juan Cool Romance

      she likes to wear it for safety while she gathers stuff to burn. then she usually forgets she has it on, and i have to remind her. shes actually wearing it in the library right now

      • Crmsnghst

        Also Pappi, if you make it out to Northern California you have a loyal following who happen to be in the combustibles industry and who would glady let you bivy in our fields of dreams. (Cue LONG knowing wink.)

        • Juan Cool Romance

          Sounds like my kinda camping!

  • Patrick Jonathan Neitzey

    That foraging guide sounds good, “Fantastic Herbs and Where to Find Them”

  • Senfsamen

    first i was laughing …. then i was pouting …. Pffffff “only germans take that much stuff “