Back on the Bike: Planning for Bike Travel When It’s Been Awhile…

Traveling with your bicycle on a road trip gives you freedom and the opportunity to experience the places around you with all of your senses. And you don't have to be 20 to do it.

Recently I met several couples who were in Ridgeland, Mississippi for a tandem bicycle rally. During this event, they’d ride anywhere from 25 to 65 miles each of the three days. They were all my age and older, and as someone who’s only recently gotten back on the bike, this was inspiring.

I’m closer to 50 than 40. I guess technically I’m middle-aged, but I certainly don’t feel like it. While I’m not exactly what you’d call “in-shape,” I can climb to the top of a lighthouse without getting winded.

Kenosha 1866 Lighthouse
Kenosha 1866 Lighthouse

I climbed to the top of that lighthouse, all 72 steps!

This wasn’t always the case. In 2014 I could barely hike a slight incline in Southern Illinois. It was embarrassing. My then-boyfriend and I were camping in a gorgeous park and he had just proposed the day before. We tried to go hiking for the second day in a row, but I couldn’t.

Because I was so badly out of shape I kept him from seeing a beautiful vista. I cried, and then and there vowed I wouldn’t let that happen again. I would not let my lack of physical fitness keep him, or me, from experiencing something amazing. I didn’t make any drastic changes, but I got off my duff more than I had before that experience, and by last year I was able to hike Palo Duro Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, Zion National Park, and more.

Now I’m adding biking to the mix.

And not just any biking. We’re taking a cross-country road trip from Elgin, Illinois, to the Pacific Northwest and back, and we’re bringing our bikes.

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”

Ernest Hemingway

Why, you may be asking? Why are we taking bicycles on a 6,500 (give or take a few hundred) mile road trip?

The short answer: because riding a bike is FUN!

Jim kissing Theresa because they're so happy after a bike ride

The longer answer is that taking our bikes will allow us to experience this country on a more intimate level. When you’re riding a bike, you see and experience the world around you firsthand. There’s nothing separating you from your surroundings. If we smell something enticing, we can follow the scent. If we see a mural, we can turn the corner. Plus there’s that whole wind-in-your (helmeted) hair that makes you feel like a kid again.

Theresa taking a break from riding her bike and sitting in a giant chair.

Am I nervous? A little. Up until the same year of my hiking failure I’d ridden a bike once in the previous twenty years. My husband had been an avid cyclist before we met and he missed riding, so we picked up a used cycle for me. I rode it a few times, and we even took bikes on our honeymoon the next year, but after that we never made the time. It sat on our balcony. The chain rusted. Eventually, I thought, I’ll get it fixed. I didn’t. 

Then last year I met Schwinn at a conference. We talked and I learned that they’re hoping to reach people exactly like me: adults who may not have ridden in awhile, but remember how fun it is. Travelers who want to experience a place with all senses. Middle-aged (gah!) people who want to stay active and be healthy and fit. We decided to partner, and they sent us a pair of beautiful Schwinn hybrid bicycles.

Jim and the Schwinns
Jim with our Schwinn bikes

They’ve opened up a whole new world.

Every time I get on Annie (I’ll share how she got her name in another post), I can’t keep from grinning. I laugh. I have to remind myself not to go too fast or I’ll tire myself out, but oh man, there’s nothing like the feeling of speeding along powered by my own two legs. And the exploring we can do; just riding around home we’ve found some new-to-us places. I can’t imagine what we’ll discover in Iowa City and Spokane and Medora.

View of the Fox River that can only be seen from the bike and pedestrian bridge
View of the Fox River that can only be seen from the bike and pedestrian bridge. Or a boat, if you wanna get technical.

So, yes, I’m a little nervous about taking my closer-to-50-than-40 behind out on a bike in parts unknown, but I’m more excited than worried. Even though I haven’t had nearly enough time to train this year because of the crazy weather and other travels, I’m confident. As we head west, we’ll go from the relative flatness of the Great Plains to the inclines and declines of the west, giving us an opportunity to get acclimated. We’re not going to be cycling up mountain roads with saddlebags, mind you, but along the way we will be touring towns and parks that are thousands of feet higher in elevation than our home.

No matter what, it’s going to be fun proving that any time is the right time to get back on the bike.

Want to follow along? Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

Schwinn provided two bicycles, but all opinions about the awesomeness of cycling are entirely my own. I did not receive any compensation, unless you count better health and fresh air, and really, aren’t those priceless?

You don't have to be young to ride bikes while traveling. We're getting back on the bikes and taking them with us cross-country.
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