Why I’ve Gone Bicycle Touring Every Single Year For The Past 14 Years In A Row

That’s right! Every single year, for the last fourteen years in a row, I’ve packed up my bicycle, left the safety and comfort of my home, and gone off on a bicycle touring adventure of some kind. I’ve pedaled thousands of miles, cycled across dozens of countries all around the world, spent countless nights sleeping in a tent, and have made hundreds of friends all across the planet.

I started bicycle touring at the age of 17. At the time I had never even heard of anyone riding a bicycle over extremely long distances. I didn’t know what bicycle touring was, nor did I know about all the special gear made for long-distance cycling. I was a total newbie, but I had this wild idea that I was going to ride my father’s old mountain bike from Oregon to Mexico down the California coastline. It would be the first time in my life I had ever been away from home for more than a day or two, and it would be the first time I ever did something truly on my own. Just the thought of it was frightening and exhilarating all at the same time.

But you know what? I completed that first bicycle tour with ease. It took me only 30 days to pedal my rusty old bike to the Mexican-American border… and by the time I got there, I was hooked!

Darren Alff's first bicycle tour in 2001

This is a photo of me on my first long-distance bicycle tour –
cycling from Oregon to Mexico down the California coastline.

At the start of that first bicycle tour, I never imagined that long-distance bicycle touring was something I would soon be making a regular part of my life. But the open road called to me each summer during my time in University. When my friends were working low-paying jobs during their short summer breaks, I was off riding my bicycle in some corner of North America. And when my college career came to an end, I started cycling overseas. Year after year my bicycle touring adventures continued.

For the first few years, I kept telling myself that I would only do one more bicycle tour and then that would be the end of it. But year after year, the open road kept calling my name.

It has been fourteen years now since I started my bicycle touring adventures and I’m just as excited by the idea of cycling through an unknown part of the world as when I first started cycling in my teens.

The truth is, however, I do get a little tired of cycling sometimes. On my latest long-distance bicycle tour, I was away from home for more than 14 months – during which time I cycled through 24 different countries on three different continents. I spent six months of that time sleeping on the ground in my tent; I was alone for the great majority of that trip (about a year); and every decision made (about where I was going to sleep, what roads I was going to take, which foods I was going to eat, etc) was entirely up to me. It was wonderful and lonely and tiring all at once.

By the time I finished my bicycle tour in southern Africa, I was exhausted. The idea of simply going home, taking off my shoes, and not moving for a good month or two sounded superb. So that’s exactly what I did!

In early July, 2013, I made my way home and settled into my condo in the mountains of Park City, Utah: a 1-bedroom, 1-bath condominium I bought for myself when I was just 22-years old.

It felt good to be back “home.” But the weird thing about traveling so much is that home doesn’t always feel like home when the road has been your home for so very long.

I settled in to my normal, sedentary life. I shopped for food at the local market, went to the bank and the post office, ate at all the restaurants I was so familiar with, and tried to get re-involved in the local community (I played on a curling team, joined a table-tennis club, and went hiking with some of the friends I had left behind more than a year ago). For the first month or two, it felt great to be back home!

But somewhere around month three or four, I began to fall into the trap I imagine many people fall into. The days started to go by more quickly, I lost track of time, I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I would have liked to, and I realized I wasn’t as happy at home as I thought I would be.

When I was out on the road, I occasionally dreamed of being at home – walking around barefoot, sitting by the fire, and taking a warm shower every single day (a luxury I rarely get when I am bicycle touring in many parts of the world). But now that I was home and had all those things that I had been missing on my travels, now all I wanted to do was get back out on the road – spend all day thinking, pushing myself up massive hills, meeting strangers and turning them into friends, and sleeping in my tent each night.

When I returned to my Utah home in July of 2013, my plan was to stay there until May, 2014, and then go on another big bicycle tour at that time. But I was getting anxious and the weather was turning. It was December now and the weather was getting cold. Snow had fallen and the local ski season had begun. But I hadn’t purchased a ski pass, so I was stuck indoors and wishing I was back on my bike, traveling the world, and having another big adventure.

It seems strange to say this now, but that’s when I saw the trailer for the new movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, I encourage you to watch it now.

The trailer shows a middle-age man stuck in a boring desk job, who dreams of escaping and going off on a wild adventure. At the point in the trailer where Sean Penn waves Benn Stiller’s character over to him, I knew what I was going to do. I was sitting at home, watching a trailer for the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but it was that one moment that would change my winter plans entirely.

The very next day I listed my condo for rent and two days after that had found a renter. I signed a contract and my condo was gone. I rented it out for an entire year – thus freeing me up to hit the road once more and live out my bicycle touring dreams!

I just announced my bicycle touring travel plans for 2014, so if you haven’t already read that article, I encourage you to give it a quick glance right now.

This year I will be cycling through at least 14 different countries (and maybe even more than that). I will be traveling alone at times, but I’m making an effort to find others to join me for certain parts of my journey. I’m sad to leave my home in Utah behind, but excited about the adventures that lay ahead. 2014 is going to be an incredible year!

But why do I keep doing this to myself?

Why do I continue to go bicycle touring year after year, even when it occasionally wears me out and is frequently such a lonely endeavor.

The truth is, I return to bicycle touring year after year because it is so incredible memorable.

When I look back over the last fourteen years, there isn’t a whole lot that I remember. I mean, I can remember where I went on my bicycle tours, but I don’t remember much else.

I don’t know where I was for the holidays in 2002; I don’t know what TV shows I watched in 2005; and I don’t remember what new clothes I bought in 2007.

But you know what I do remember?

I remember every single bicycle tour I’ve ever been on… and I remember hundreds of magical moments from those bicycle adventures!

If you were to ask me what I did in 2005, I would be able to quickly tell you about my bicycle tour through Canada, Washington and Oregon states, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you much else. It’s only after mentioning my bicycle tour that I would remember that 2005 was the year I graduated from University. But the fact that I graduated from college would come second to my bicycle tour! In other words, I remember my travels by bike far more than I remember anything else.

In fact, my bicycle tours are how I remember just about everything. Name a year and I can tell you where I was that year because of my bicycle tours. My travels by bike are a clear picture in my mind, whereas everything else is more of a haze.

So when I sit down and think about the reason I’ve gone bicycle touring every single year for the last fourteen years in a row, that’s the first thing that comes to mind: I go bicycle touring year after year because it is so incredibly memorable… and I want to do as many memorable things in life as I possibly can.


8 thoughts on “Why I’ve Gone Bicycle Touring Every Single Year For The Past 14 Years In A Row

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      That’s a secret 🙂 But seriously, I should write an article about that at some point in the future. How I afford all this travel might surprise you. Almost anyone could do it… if they really wanted to.

  1. Matthew says:

    BTPro I would encourage you to break down some of how you travel like this.. Would it be possible if you were married and had children. if there was a way for me to take some time off to tour would be amazing.

  2. Debra says:

    Yes I’d like to know how you find your touring. Obviously you have the rest from your condo but I’m fiduring that you are sponsored ? The sale of your books? Tell all!

  3. Debra says:

    Oops typos… I mean how do you fund your tours? Having your Condo rented (not rested) is a huge help

Comments are closed.

Send this to a friend