When, Where & Why Did You Start Bicycle Touring?

Darren Alff's first bike tour down the California coastline

Click play on the video above to hear Darren Alff (the Bicycle Touring Pro) discuss when, where and why he first got started with bicycle touring.

I started at the very beginning, just like everyone else. The thing that’s made me different, however, from so many others in the bicycle touring world is that I started at a very young age and have stuck with it for years and years.

You see, it all started in 2001, with what I call, a defining moment in my life.

I had just graduated from high school and had been accepted into a 4-year college, majoring in what I thought would be a successful career in the film and television industry. I was seventeen years old at the time and even though I was excited about the career path I had chosen, there was something that was bothering me and keeping me up at night.

I saw what so many of my friends and family members were doing (going to college, graduating, getting a job, getting married, buying a house, having kids, and then only after they had retired, being able to go off and travel the world), and frankly, it frightened me.

I didn’t want to have to wait until I was 50 or 60 years old to travel the world and live the life I wanted. I wanted to do all those things as soon as I possibly could.

So, that’s when I decided that before going off to college I was going to do something big, challenging, and memorable! I didn’t know what that thing would be at first, but I knew I was going to do something I would remember for the rest of my life before I started my college career.

That’s when one of my friends from school suggested I run the length of California, kind of like Forrest Gump did when he ran across the United States in the popular 1994 movie. I was a huge Forrest Gump fan in high school, so the idea of running from Oregon to Mexico sounded like a good one. It would be big, challenging and memorable way to spend my summer vacation!

But after conducting a painful three-day test run near my home, during which I ran a marathon (26.2+ miles) every single day for three days in a row, I came the realization that running the length of California would be an unattainable goal for my short two-month summer holiday.

Instead of giving up on my goal, however, my Uncle Tom suggested that instead of running the length of California, I should ride a bike instead. This was an “ah-ha” moment in my life.

My Uncle Tom had just returned from a two-month-long bicycle tour in Ireland and he was able to explain to me that with a bicycle I could travel long distances each day and I would be able to carry all the food, clothing and camping equipment I would need for the trip with me on my bicycle. The idea was incredibly simple… but it exactly what I needed to hear.

So, before I started my first year of college, I mounted my father’s dusty old mountain bike (which had been sitting unused in our family garage for years) and slowly pedaled my way more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from Oregon to Mexico along the California Coastline.

I didn’t know a thing about “bicycle touring” at the time and I made a ton of mistakes along the way, but I muscled my way through it and thirty days later eventually made it to my destination. That first trip by bike changed my life forever!

I thought that once I reached Mexico at the end of that first trip, my bicycle touring days would come to an end. But reaching Mexico was really just the beginning. I was hooked on bicycle touring! For the following four summers, after finishing my college classes, I set out on my bicycle to explore some new and distant part of the world. And after I graduated from college, I just kept going further and further away from home – traveling by bike in dozens of different countries all across the planet.

That first bike tour down the California Coastline was a defining moment for me. It taught me a lot about both myself and the world in which we live… and it taught me even more about the fundamental basics of bicycle touring.

It taught me that riding on an old dilapidated mountain bike was not the best type of bike to be riding. It taught me that the bags I was carrying all my belongings in needed to be more functional and waterproof. And it taught me that if you carry too much “stuff,” cycling becomes quite difficult.

Most importantly, it taught me that the world isn’t nearly as scary as people make it out to be.

I learned that you can have big goals, do amazing things, and it doesn’t matter where you are from, how old you are, or how much money you have in your bank account. You can push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of… and succeed!

During my early bike tours I began to notice that there were other bicycle travelers who were learning these things as they went along as well. I would land in campgrounds each night and mingle with fellow bicycle tourists. We would sit around the campfire for hours each night and talk about the problems we were having out on the road, which gear was best for long-distance touring, how to plan out a safe and enjoyable cycle touring route, and a whole lot more.

Are you ready to start bicycle touring? Check out my best-selling book with ALL my BEST tips and tricks for conducting your own bicycle touring adventures: www.bicycletouringbook.com

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