How Often Should You Shower on Tour?

Floating around the web is a BuzzFeed article about how often you really need to shower: How Often You Really Need to Shower (According to Science).-Rachel Wilkerson Miller January 12, 2015 I read this article and thought, “Yes!” I totally agree! In fact, I’ve already written two articles about this very thing: How to Stay Clean (without a proper shower) While On Bicycle Tour, and Touring Clean vs Home Clean. It’s nice to see that the science backs me up.

On our most recent bicycle tour my tolerance for going to bed without a shower was increased dramatically. When you’re traveling through isolated regions (ok, so New Zealand isn’t really all that isolated, but there were days where we didn’t have access to a shower, so it counts, I swear!) there are sacrifices you make when it comes to cleanliness. Or are there? According to the article, it isn’t really necessary to shower every day, or even every other day. Showers can dry your skin out (especially paired with harsh soaps) and might remove beneficial bacteria from your skin. It’s much more important to change your undergarments daily. And if you’re really grossed out, you can clean your dirty bits (underarms, groin, bottom, and face, hopefully not quite in that order) with a wash cloth.

Speaking of changing undergarments daily, does that mean you should bring a week’s worth of bicycle shorts with you on tour so you can have a fresh pair every day? I think not. During our recent New Zealand tour, I tried a new tactic for undergarments and cycling shorts. Previously, I’ve stayed away from wearing anything under my shorts. I have a tendency to chafe (not fun). But, my husband found these great merino wool boxers for me, and they’ve changed the way I cycle. The wool is soft and comfortable, easily cleaned, and doesn’t develop a smell because it’s a natural fiber. They’re easier to wash out than cycling shorts, don’t irritate my nether regions, and don’t take up much space in my clothing bag. I can get away with two pairs of cycling shorts, and three pairs of underwear.

So, bottom line is: in daily life, and in cycling, showering daily isn’t necessary. You can do it, but it won’t kill you if you don’t.

Life and Hills-Metaphors for biking and life

Why are there so many references to hills in our language?

  • An uphill battle
  • It’s all downhill from here.
  • Over the hill.
  • King of the hill.
  • Making a mountain out of a mole hill.

I think hills play a big part of our psyche as humans because they’re so visual. Starting as a little thing in the horizon, it grows and grows, then when you are standing at the base of the hill looking up you finally begin to understand what you are about to undertake. We’ve all climbed a challenging hill, felt the burn in our legs, lungs screaming for air. And then, eventually, the top is reached. With a sigh of relief, you catch your breath, and continue down the other side. Trust me, after our most recent tour in New Zealand, I have an even better appreciation for the incredible feeling of reaching the top of a hill.

But it’s not just climbing a hill on a bicycle. The same goes for any challenge in life that I face. I see it, and I’m a little nervous. Am I ready? Then I face it. I begin, and it may be hard, for a time. I might even want to stop. And sometimes I do. I take a little break, regroup, and collect myself. I might climb off the bike and walk up. But, I keep going, and then, I find myself at the “top,” where I can catch my breath and appreciate all the hard work I’ve just done. With a bit of pride, I continue on until the next challenge, the next hill. And this time, I’m a little stronger, the climb a little easier.

In his book “Spartan Up!” Joe De Sena, the creator of the Spartan Obstacle Course Races describes it perfectly: “To move freely, to breathe fully and deeply, and to have the ability to surmount physical obstacles is a privilege.” Just because something looks hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. In fact, it’s really just the opposite. Every “hill” that comes our way is an opportunity for growth.

As Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” But it all starts with that first one. The next time your route goes across a great hill don’t skip it, don’t go around, look at that hill and realize that hill is exactly why you are out here touring, to see the amazing world in ways that most people don’t, to feel what it takes for you to view the world powered by your own muscles, to conquer anything that mother nature can put in front of you. You can do it.

Those Hills Are Intimidating!

On my first ever bicycle tour, we bicycled down the Pacific Coast. We started in northern Washington, near the Canadian border, and made our way south toward Mexico. After the first few days of climbing up and down steep, small hills, I realized how unprepared I was. The steep hills just about made me throw in the towel. Each night, I would glance at the map for the next day’s ride, and worry if it looked like there was a sizable hill coming up. As we drew south and closer to the biggest climb on the coast, Leggett (1 and 2), my anticipation increased. Would I be able to make it?

But here’s the thing. The big hills always turned out to be much easier to climb than I expected. In general, hills are graded gradually. Even steep ones usually aren’t steep for long. And the best thing about being on a bicycle is you can take a break whenever you need it. There’s no rule that says you have to keep climbing a hill once you’ve started. My husband’s motto is: Slow and steady, and onward and upward. As long as you keep making forward progress, you’re golden! My memories of the Leggett climb are ones of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. The climb was gradual, and quite pleasant. The view from the top was amazing, and the downhill ride was exhilarating.

As I have gotten better at bicycling and touring, I have become a better judge of what my body is capable of. I find the least enjoyment with rolling hills, even as a well-seasoned tourist. I much prefer slow, gradual climbs. Additionally, I have learned to take with a grain of salt a car driver’s opinion of upcoming hills. Car drivers don’t even notice the millions of hills they climb with no effort; on a bicycle you have to fight and conquer each one.

On a recent tour, we tried out an Android app simply titled “Elevation Profile” that we used to show the elevation profile for the next day’s route. It was much more accurate than the map profiles we had been using. And since I had more confidence in myself, it felt good to see what I was capable of achieving.

Once again, bicycle touring can be seen as a metaphor for life. How many times do we stand before an obstacle and psyche ourselves out before we even try? Worrying about how big that hill was the night before didn’t change the fact that the hill existed, or that I had to climb it. The best thing to do is take the challenges as they come. And there’s nothing better than reaching the top of a particularly long climb, taking a deep breath, and smiling all the way down the other side.


How to build (and not destroy) your relationship on tour

Day 36 of our Pacific Coast bicycle tour started off on the wrong foot. The previous day’s mileage had been cut short due to allergies, and we both went to bed cranky. The biting flies didn’t help put us in a better mood, either. While packing up the next morning, I could not for the life of me find my leg warmers. I just knew Matt had put them somewhere, and now they were lost. It was a cool, Pacific coast morning, and I didn’t want to ride with just my shorts. I had had it. This bicycle touring had quite suddenly become not fun. We were getting on each other’s nerves, and it was starting to show.

So, how do you maintain a good relationship while spending every waking minute (and all the sleeping ones) with another person?

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine. First off, you have to realize that it’s bound to be rocky sometimes. Even the best couples go through rough patches sometimes. Everyone only has so many nerves, and it’s easy to let little irritations become big ones.

Cut the other person some slack. Are you tired and sore from the previous day’s ride? Well, he probably is, too. Was your sleep interrupted by some rowdy campers? Guess what. He’s right there with you. Are you cranky because you had trouble breathing through your stuffy nose? News flash. He had to hear you snore all night. A little patience can go a long way.

Give yourselves some space. Sometimes, you just need to be alone. That’s perfectly normal, and will probably save you both some sanity. Just make sure to communicate what your plan is, so he doesn’t think you’re purposefully avoiding him. You’re riding together, eating together, sleeping together. Sometimes, too much together can be too much.

Enjoy the little moments. When it starts to feel like work, slow it down. Find an awesome spot to sit and enjoy the view for a minute. Breathe the fresh air. Give each other a hug. Remember your reason for embarking on this epic journey together.

It’s going to be tough sometimes. But it’s also going to be amazing. You’ll grow closer than you ever thought possible. Besides. Think of the stories you’ll be able to tell your grandkids. Oh, and day 36? It ended on such a high note, at a campsite with a beautiful patch of grass and a view of the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t wait for the next day’s ride.

Touring Clean vs. Home Clean

As a woman on a bicycle tour, you’re bound to get questioned on many topics. Even if you’re traveling with a companion, male or otherwise, there are questions that invariably get asked. For example: “Do you ever feel unsafe?” “Why would you want to do that?” “How do you stand not being clean?” The first two questions, I can understand. It’s the last one that gets me, and it’s actually the most common question from other women. Why are women so concerned about this?

Well, I’m here to tell you that modern cleanliness has taken the meaning of clean a little too far. The idea that you have to be stripped free of every bit of dirt and sweat immediately is something that you get over really quickly while on a bicycle tour. You get used to your own smell pretty quickly, in a matter of days usually. And don’t get me wrong, a nice shower at the end of the day feels amazing, but it’s easy to ride and sweat through a day (and sometimes two) without thinking too much about it. A clean bathroom on bicycle tour is a luxury. And you learn to never pass up a toilet, no matter how dirty. Just do your business and get on with it. (You also learn how to do your business behind the cover of a tree, or in a culvert, or pretty much any other opportune place. When you gotta go, you just go!)

And speaking of modern hygiene, let’s talk about body hair. On my first bicycle tour, I was very aware of how quickly my leg and underarm hair was growing out. At home, I can get away with a shave once a week or so, but while on tour it began to seem out of control, as I didn’t even bring a razor. I was more than a little embarrassed about it. After talking to other women bicycle tourists, I came to the realization: it doesn’t matter. You’re riding a bicycle all day. You’re using your own powerful muscles to push and pull pounds of gear, plus your own weight, up massive hills. What does a little leg hair matter?

Once I stopped caring so much about it, I felt relief. Like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. In the present moment, when all that matters is making it to the goal you’ve set for yourself for the day, a little leg hair is irrelevant. Everything gets put into perspective. The simplicity and beauty of the ride should be what you are focused on; this is what your body was built to do. Plus, there’s plenty of time when you get home to lather up or on a rest day (you are scheduling rest days on your tour, right?). Until then, just eat, sleep, and ride!

Lessons Learned from my First Bicycle Tour

September 20, 2011
Ferndale, WA to Deception Pass State Park, WA
52 Miles

Woke up early this morning to a beautiful sunrise at Aunt Robin’s house. She made us a delicious breakfast (bison with eggs and hashbrown casserole). Finished up the bike prep, and away we left! We departed at 9am or so, and headed to Bellingham. We got to the bike shop in Bellingham around 11, and picked up two wireless bike computers. The guy at the shop was nice enough to help us install them. Then it was back on the road. We should have eaten in Bellingham then, since it was another 3 hours until we made it to a café for lunch. It was a hard fought 3 hours of riding, too. By then, we had gone 17 miles from Bellingham, only 29 miles for the day, and I was already so tired. That ride through the mountains was beautiful, and we even picked some blackberries, but I wasn’t sure I could keep going. But we did keep going. And going. Past Padillo Bay and Anacortes, up over Deception Pass to Deception Pass State Park. We had trouble finding the campsite, and then had to pay $21, but I’m so glad to be done. Tomorrow will be better! It is 730pm, getting dark, and after a baby wipe refresh, I’m ready for bed!

This was my very first journal entry from my very first bicycle tour. I did pretty well conveying the mood of the day. But there were some details I left out. I didn’t really describe how miserable and tired I was. How I almost broke down and cried 5 miles from camp because I didn’t think I could keep going. We took a wrong turn trying to find the campground and ended up climbing up a steep hill, and I was so dejected and disheartened. If this was bicycle touring, I wanted to quit. But here’s the good news. As I said in the journal entry, it WAS better the next day. And the next. It just kept getting better. I got stronger, and it became easier to enjoy the little moments. There are definite moments bicycle touring when you will want to quit. But there are many more when you’ll just be amazed. At the scenery, at your strength, at how far you’ve come. I’d like to share with you a few of the lessons I learned (from that very first day of touring) that can benefit all of us.

  1. If you shipped your bike to your starting location, make sure you know how to put it back together again.
  2. Train (with distance and weight) before you leave.
  3. If you don’t train, plan for shorter distance days in the beginning until you get stronger.
  4. Make sure you know how many miles you are traveling the first day. Nothing is worse than thinking you’ve already finished the ride for the day, only to find out you have to go 12 miles further.
  5. You WILL get stronger and it WILL get easier.
  6. Eat, eat, eat!
  7. Always have an extra meal, just in case you need it. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are perfect for this.
  8. Bring fuel for your stove. Sterno cans just don’t cut it!
  9. You don’t need a pasta strainer! And it’s ok to ship back unneeded things you thought you would need on the trip, but really ended up just being extra weight.
  10. It will be harder than you think, but much more rewarding than you can imagine.

I thought I had prepared myself for that first tour. Boy was I in for a surprise. But the thing is, even though I collapsed onto my sleeping pad that first night and passed out from exhaustion, and even though my whole body was sore in the morning from all the hard work I had done the day before, I never gave up. And everything eventually came together. When I think of that first tour, the difficulties of the first day (or week) are a dim memory compared to the rest of the tour. I’m so glad I was able to push past those speedbumps and keep going. And I’m a better person for it.

You Don’t Need a Hammer on Your Bicycle Tour: Life Lessons

On a recent tour I encountered a particular cyclist who stands out in my memory. Like all tourists, we happily regaled each other with stories and wisdom, swapping tales over a snacks. We talked about gear, and tours, and the weather. And then I noticed something strapped to the back of her pannier: a hammer. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had to ask. She said that she doesn’t go anywhere without it.
I couldn’t help but think about the wasted energy that this tourist had to expend carrying that hammer thousands of miles. In all of my tours, I’ve never set up my tent in a place that didn’t have some sort of substitute for a hammer. Usually a big rock nearby does the trick. In a pinch I’ve asked fellow campers, and have never been turned down. Even after I told her that, she insisted that the hammer was an essential part of her tool box, and we left it at that.
After we parted ways, I thought about that hammer. Do we all have something like that that we don’t want to let go of? Something we’re hanging onto even though we don’t need to? Is it so obvious to others even though it’s difficult for us to see it ourselves?
I made a resolution that day to let go of some of the stuff I’ve been holding onto. The past is the past, and the only thing that matters is the present. I’ve realized that bicycle touring can be a metaphor for life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Solve problems as they come. Focus on the road ahead. Don’t worry about that storm that has already passed, enjoy the weather right now.  Keep going. Don’t give up. The climb might be steep, but the ride down the other side makes up for it. Life is like this. It’s full of grit, and pain, and joy, and wonder, and agonizingly beautiful things. It can even be a little scary at times. Live each day proud of yourself for all that you’ve done. But don’t bring a hammer on a bike tour. It’ll only make you tired.