While the basic schedule of any bicycle tour is pretty much the same (wake up, ride your bike and then go to sleep), the day to day activities behind any bicycle tour can vary greatly depending on the individual, the location of the tour, the weather conditions and a number of other factors.
I frequently get asked, “What is a typical day of bicycle touring like?”… and I usually struggle to come up with a good answer to this question because it seems that almost every day on tour is so different.
That’s why I have recently started a new series of articles here on Bicycle Touring Pro titled, “A Day In The Life Of A Bicycle Traveler.”
In the following article, I will be sharing with you my day to day activities from my bicycle tour across South Africa – in a desert region called the “Karoo.” My hope is that by reading the details of my day, you will have a better understanding of how time is spent on a self-supported bicycle tour, and you will be able to better plan your own bicycle touring adventures.
If after reading the following article you have any questions, just leave a comment at the bottom of this article and I will respond to you as soon as I can.
7:07 AM – Yawn. “What time is it?” I think to myself. There is sun bursting through the roof of my tent and I can tell the temperature outside is rising. I check the time on my iPod Touch and then roll over and go back to sleep.
7:38 AM – “Okay, I need to get up now,” I tell myself. It’s getting hot inside my tent and I won’t be able to handle this heat for too much longer. But I’m not really ready to get out of bed. I’m not a morning person and I’m in no rush to break camp. I’ve had a wonderful evening out under the stars and I really don’t want to go anywhere… so I pick up my iPod again and begin reading an eBook via the Kindle app.
8:40 AM – After several chapters of intense reading, I finally roll out of bed… and the first thing I do is eat. I eat an apple covered in peanut butter, three biscuits, a banana and a liter of water.
8:57 AM – Now fully awake, I change into my riding clothes. No shower today. I’m in the desert and there isn’t much water around. It will have to be a bird bath for me today. After changing my clothes, I put on my shoes and then exit my tent. I go to the restroom (number 1 and 2 if you really must know), blow my nose and brush my teeth.
9:15 AM – After my trip to the restroom (which is really just a small shrub and a pile of rocks located about 100 paces from my campsite), I begin to slowly break camp. I pack my panniers, deflate my air mattress and then break down my tent while at the same time eating another banana.
9:55 AM – Just five minutes before 10 AM, I finally finish packing up my things. I load all four panniers, my handle bar bag, my solar panel and the bag containing my tripod and tent poles onto my bicycle and then look around my campsite for anything I might be accidentally leaving behind. There is nothing, so I throw one leg over the bike and slowly begin my ride downhill to the main road.
10:00 AM – It’s about 300 meters until I hit the dirt road that will eventually take me back to the N1 – the large, paved highway I have been cycling on for the past several days. Once on the gravel road, I turn the bike toward a nearby wind-powered water pump. My goal is to sneak over to the pump and fill up my water bottles before I get back on the road. Without this water, I might not make it to my destination for the night.
10:10 AM – I fill up my water bottles and wash my face in the small stream of liquid coming out of the ground. I could really use a shower, but that will have to wait. “Maybe I’ll get a shower tonight?” I think to myself, “Or maybe tomorrow?”
10:20 AM – With my water bottles full and my face partially clean, I prepare to hit the road. I put my earphones in and turn the music up load. It’s just a short ride up the dirt road before I’m back on the N1.
10:28 AM – Back on the main road now, I stop for a quick photo and then turn left. The highway is relatively quiet at this time of day. The traffic is moderate and passing quickly (120+ km/hour), but there is a huge shoulder to ride in and I feel perfectly safe.
11:20 AM – It’s really hot out and all that water I drank this morning causes me to have to stop and pee (on the side of the road – there are no toilets anywhere to be found).
11:23 AM – I apply a thin layer of sunscreen and then I’m back on the road!
11:36 AM – It’s nearly noon, but I’m making some progress. A large green road sign tells me that it is now 20 km to Prince Albert Road and 135 km to Beaufort West. I’m not planning to make it to Beaufort West today, but I hope to make it there sometime tomorrow. My goal for the day is to cover half that distance, approximately 70+ kilometers.
12:00 PM – I’m covering a lot of ground when I stop to take a photo and realize that the battery in my camera is nearly dead. Luckily, I’m carrying several spare batteries, so I just pop out the current battery and put in a fully-changed one. I make a mental note to myself to recharge this used battery just as soon as I have access to an electrical outlet.
12:08 PM – I’m back on the road now, pedaling along a long, flat road that climbs and falls at almost unnoticeable percentages. The wind is in my face, but I hardly notice it and just keep riding.
12:15 PM – Another large green road sign indicates that I have covered another 10 kilometers. It is now only 10 km to Prince Albert Road, 50 km to Leeu-Gamka (my goal for the day), and 125 km to Beaufort West.
12:55 PM – I arrive at Prince Albert Road and quickly realize there is little to be found there. A small gas station and a hole-in-the-wall convenience store are together manned by approximately six lazy workers. There is no water for sale – only soda, so I purchase a 2.5 liter bottle of Sprite. I ask if they have any ice cream. It’s hot and an ice cream sounds wonderful, but they haven’t got any. Nor do they have fresh food of any kind. It’s all just packaged, plastic, junk. I feel like I could eat a horse (even though I’m vegetarian), but I leave Prince Albert Road with nothing more than a giant bottle of soda.
1:10 PM – As I pull out of the gas station at the corner of the N1 and Prince Albert Road, a toothless hitchhiker jokingly asks me for a ride on the back of my bicycle. I tell him, “If you peddle, I’ll give you a ride.” He laughs… and I continue on my way.
1:36 PM – I’m making progress now! Another green sign informs me that it is now only 30 km to Leeu-Gamka and 105 km to Beaufort West.
2:04 PM – As I reach the next green sign, pointing out the fact that I am another 10 km closer to my goal for the day, I swap out my music with a Polish audio course I’ve been listening to for the last several months. The audio lessons are about 30-minutes long, so I decide I’ll listen to a lesson before switching back to my “cycling tunes.”
2:33 PM – My Polish audio lesson comes to an end at the exact moment I pass another green sign. This one tells me I am now only 10 km from Leeu-Gamka and 85 km from Beaufort West.
3:00 PM I arrive in Leeu-Gamka at 3 PM exactly. The place is small, with little around. I pull into the one and only gas station, expecting yet another small store filled with soda and plastic cookies and candy bars, but am delighted when I see there is a small restaurant attached to the gas station. I park my bike outside the restaurant’s large glass window and then saunter inside, quickly ordering myself a cheese and tomato sandwich with a large order of french fries and a chocolate milkshake. Again, not the healthiest of foods, but it was the best of what was available. Such is life on the road sometimes!
3:53 PM – I could sit inside the restaurant for another hour or two (it’s hot outside and my legs are sore), but it’s getting late and I need to start looking for a place to spend the night. I purchase a few goodies at the convenient store located next door to the restaurant and then load my food supply for the next day onto my fully-loaded touring bike.
3:55 PM – Just before I pull out of the gas station, one of the bored gas station attendants calls over to me, “Where ‘re ya going on dat ting?” To which I reply, “Swaziland!” He smiles from ear to ear and looks around in disbelief. I imagine he’s thinking to himself, “This guy must be crazy!”
4:00 PM – I purchased an ice cream at the gas station convenient store before I left, but I didn’t want to eat it there, so I put it in my handlebar bag, rode up the road just a short ways, found a stone wall to sit on, and enjoyed my ice cream while calmly watching a slow stream of traffic pass me by.
4:11 PM – “Okay,” I say to myself, “Time to find a place to sleep for the night.” I jump back on my bicycle and pedal east.
4:28 PM – I pass a sign saying it is now 70 km to Beaufort West.
5:00 PM – The sun is starting to go down and I know that I’ve only got about an hour and a half before it gets really dark. I need to find a place to camp for the night, so when I see a side road that leads off into the distance, I turn onto it, cycle down a short gravel street, then turn right onto a dirt road that parallels a set of rusty train tacks. I’m cycling west now, back in the direction I’ve come from, but I’m far off the main road now. I’m just looking for an opening in the barbed-wire fence, where I can pull my bike inside for the night and find a place to sleep. Luckily, I’m able to find such an opening about 2 km down the road. I turn left and cross over the railroad tracks I’ve been following and then let myself into a gated off area where a small number of cattle are roaming near an old stone, brick and adobe ruin.
5:07 PM – The ruins are far from civilization and they give me some shelter from the wind, so I decide to camp there for the night. Before setting up my tent, however, I scout out the location, making note of a nearby stream (where wild animals are sure to gather in the night) and a small cemetery covered in chain link fence and barbed-wire (the saddest cemetery I’ve ever seen). There are animal tracks everywhere I look and I try and pick out a spot for my tent that is out of the way of passing creatures in the area.
5:20 PM – Now completely certain that this will be my home for the evening, I begin setting up my tent.
5:40 PM – Twenty minutes later my tent is set up, my air mattress is inflated, my sleeping bag is prepared and my panniers are removed from my bicycle and stored inside my tent.
5:48 PM – I’ve got less than an hour of sunlight left, so I decide to make the most of it by reading some more of my book, while sitting on a nearby pile of rocks that overlooks the valley below, and at the same time stretching my sore body. I try to stretch almost every day, but I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.
6:43 PM – It’s nearly dark now. The sun is about to completely disappear for the night and several small bats fly above my head. I remove the headlamp from one of my panniers and prepare to crawl inside my tent.
6:50 PM – An animal (something similar to a coyote, I think) calls in the distance and a single mosquito bite on my leg prompts me to call it a night. I jump inside my tent and eat two vegetable sandwiches, using some of the ingredients I was able to pick up at the convenient store in Leeu-Gamka just a couple hours before.
7:06 PM – After eating my dinner, I jump outside to brush my teeth really quick, then I change my clothes and jump back inside my tent. I am dirty and sweaty, but there isn’t enough water around to wash my face or bathe in any way. It has been more than four days now since I last had a shower. I’m looking forward to reaching Beaufort West so I can rent a hotel room there and finally take a shower.
7:14 PM – Back inside my tent, I whip out my laptop computer, and using the SIM activated USB stick I purchased in Cape Town, attempt to access the Internet. I’m out in the middle of nowhere, but I am able to establish a connection. It’s super slow and the only thing I can do is check and respond to my emails, so that’s what I do. It takes an entire hour.
8:14 PM – Emails now sorted, I put the computer away and return to my eBook, reading for the next hour and a half.
9:45 PM – I’ve been inside the tent for several hours now and I’m getting tired. I put my iPod away, take one last swig of water, and then I call it a day. My head hits the sleeping bag and I’m out. My day is over and I sleep soundly, dreaming the entire time about the shower I hope to receive in Beaufort West the following day.