Sean, please tell me where you went on your bicycle tour and how many days you were on the road.
This was my first bicycle tour and I rode from Amsterdam to Bormio, a small town in Northern Italy at the base of the Stelvio Pass, over six weeks. I had been to Amsterdam once before and so thought that starting in a somewhat familiar place might not be a bad idea, but I also wanted it to be an adventure so a familiar place on the other side of the world seemed like a good mix.
I rode down the Dutch coast, via Den Haag, and into Belgium to Brugge. I then made my way across Belgium first visiting Gent and then heading further South to visit the famous cycling areas of Flanders and the Northern French town of Roubaix (the finish of the Paris – Roubaix Classic), taking days off from travel to cycle the famous cobblestone roads of those areas. I continued East across into Belgium over towards the Ardennes where I visited Valkenburg and rode part of the famous Amstel Gold Race route. I then headed South and made my way to Liege by which point I was somewhat behind my schedule and so I caught a train to Luxembourg.
After enjoying the classy sights of Luxembourg I made my way across the border back into Northern France and headed to Verdun. I spent a couple of sombre days there visiting the old war sights and learning more about that period of history. Following this I made my way to Metz to visit the newly opened Centre Pompidou art gallery before catching the train to Basel in Switzerland (this was a train ride I had always anticipated taking).
After spending a few days in Basel spent watching the rugby from back home in Australia and the Tour de France and generally just relaxing I headed out into the Swiss country side and was immediately blown away by it. This was perhaps because it was so alien to anything I had seen from back home but nevertheless I set off into the mountainous landscape and fell in love with it instantly. Over the next week I made my way East across Switzerland climbing cols, camping next to Alpine lakes, visiting some other inspirational cycle tourists and generally loving the connection to the land I was feeling. Once across the border into Northern Italy I stopped at a town called Prato de Stelvio where I rested my tired legs for a day or two (again spent watching the rugby from back in Australia, the Tour from France, and Wimbeldon in England; and going for swims in the pool) before beginning my final days ride – the Stelvio Pass. I had heard about how painful and challenging the 25km ascent was and, sure, it took me a 3 hours to get up it but I had the biggest grin on my face and the greatest sense of satisfaction as I was riding up it, so much so that I barely noticed the pain.
What was your biggest fear when planning or preparing for your trip by bike? And how exactly did you overcome that fear?
To quote a certain American politician, it was the ‘unknown unknowns’ that had me most worried. Having read your book and prepared as best I could with that as my blue print I felt that I was fairly well equipped. This was, however, my first cycle tour and as such I truly had no idea what it was going to be like and, as much as reading a book about traveling by bike is immensely helpful, it pales in comparison to actually being out and learning on the rode. I simply had to have confidence in my own ability to adapt to whatever was thrown up at me on my journey and, I’m proud to say, I dealt with it all quite well – mostly by getting into a solid rhythm everyday of waking early at 8 or 9 AM (I’m 18, so 8 or 9 AM is early for me…) and then getting my day’s ride done by about 2 in the afternoon, which then allowed me to enjoy the sights and sounds of wherever I was or just sit back and relax for the afternoon.
What was the thing you liked MOST about your bicycle touring experience?
Undoubtedly it would be how connected I was to the land I was riding through. Never have I felt so intrinsically alive to nature around me. Growing up in Sydney, a relatively large major city, I was always aware to a certain extent that the environment was a part of the world but never had I appreciated it so much until this trip. Meeting other people was fun when it happened, but I didn’t feel the need or have the desire to go out of my way to make new acquaintances, unless of course if they were fellow cycle tourists in which case stories were shared late into the night.
What mistakes (if any) did you make during your bike tour?
Upon advice from my mother (which in retrospect made little or no sense) I didn’t take anything to cook my own food with like a camp stove or Trangea, and so I was limited camping in places where there was a kitchen or cheap food nearby or forgoing camping altogether and getting a small hostel room (by far the worst option, especially when it involved a dorm room). For my next trip I will certainly take something to cook with so as to give me more freedom with my locations.
Other than this relatively minor issue, I would say it was an overwhelmingly positive experience, with possibly my only other issue being not having someone easily on hand to take pictures of me in the scenic surrounds should I want one!
What one piece of information from the website at www.bicycletouringpro.com helped you the most during your bicycle tour?
Undoubtedly remembering to pack lip balm. It doesn’t seem like much, but it made a huge difference for me and on the days when I didn’t apply it I certainly noticed the lack thereof.
Name three things you learned from your bicycle tour:
1. The world is an incredibly beautiful place and it has so many amazing sights to offer if you take the time to slow down and really enjoy it.
2. People, for the most part, are very generous, open, and friendly if you give yourself and them the chance to connect and talk.
3. Going off and having an adventure like this right after finishing high school is by far the best way to teach really yourself about the world after having spent the vast majority of your life sitting in classrooms.
Do you think you’ll conduct more bicycle tours in the future? If so, where do you want to go? And why do you want to go there?
Absolutely! I am currently planning on riding through the North and South Islands of New Zealand at the end of the year and then, depending on what I do in regards to going to Uni or getting work, I would like to cycle through Vietnam and also cycling around the island of New Caledonia. Those are my next three, I want them all to be vastly contrasting landscapes (which I think they will be) and then – who knows? South America holds great appeal for me as another place to have an adventure. I have to admit, however, that the prospect of cycling in the US scares me what with the seeming emphasis on car travel up there.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is planning their first bicycle touring adventure?
Plan it well. Have a schedule of where you intend to be each day, but don’t feel pressured to stick to it once you’re out on the road. Just knowing that you have done all the hard thinking before you set off is incredibly reassuring, not only for you but for those that care about you and are waiting for you back home.
One thought on “18-Year-Old High School Graduate, Sean Marshall, Conducts His First Self-Supported Bicycle Tour”
Great story Darren & an intern for you if I ever saw one. Oh, please make sure Sean knows getting up at 8 or 9 is early for us old timers on the road too. hahaha I found his comment funny.
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