Backroads Bicycle Touring
Backroads Bicycle Touring; by Terry Connellan
The How To of Back Roads Bicycle Touring
Bicyclists come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. They race
on sleek road, and sturdy fall off the mountain, bikes. Their
bicycles are used to commute to work and school, and
to recreate themselves.
These days a growing number of them are riding out
on the high road to adventure, touring the main and
backroads of North America.
It is possible to travel light, eat in restaurants, and sleep
in hotels, but it isn't much fun. Fully loaded touring doesn't
require much additional effort, and the independence
it affords is well worth it.
Main highway travel offers little of interest. The noise and
smell of high speed traffic and disassociation from
communities along the way soon palls on the inquisitive
cycle-tourist. The backroads beckon.
On back roads paved shoulders are in short supply,
so exercise your rights under sections of most State and
Province Highway Acts and ride on the right hand car tire
tracks. Overtaking traffic is required to pass with care.
Distance touring by bicycle is anything but risky if sensible
precautions are taken. In the past sixteen years I have
taken that adventure over 77,000 kms in all the provinces,
save one, and in both territories as well as the United States.
Add to that another 50,000 kms of city commuting with only
a couple of serious incidents.
The road is shared with all manner of vehicles. Contrary to
what you might believe, those professionals driving the big rigs
are the least of your concern. I make a special practice with
the large "semi's." When they are 200 metres behind me I
acknowledge their presence with 2 or 3 wide overhand waves,
pick a "line" and ride it, giving the trucker what they need
to pass safely.
If they are having a problem with a hill or oncoming traffic,
and the shoulder surface is safe, I'll wave them by and pull
off. As they pass I wave a greeting with a pull down motion as
if I had air horns.
This almost always brings an answering Blaaat and flashing
backup lights. The drivers pass news of this courtesy along
by radio and soon you'll find oncoming trucks honking
and flashing a greeting. Respond with a pull down wave.
In an emergency these men and women are your best
Camping is convenient, quiet, and plentiful with recreation
sites, and roadside rest areas along your way provided
by the Ministry of Forests and Transportation agencies,
and most often they're free.
There are also Provincial and State Parks enroute, but
since they may be noisy, provide little in the way of
services, and charge you the same as a motorhome, why
My favorite campsites are created on the banks of the many
rivers that cross the roads. They are quiet, private, and I
can easily bear-proof the site by suspending my panniers that
contain only the food and toiletries on a line from the bridge
100 meters up, or downstream.
That same 30 metre nylon line can be used to hoist your
bike off the ground for repairs and to hang out the wash.
Then, following an old Grizzly hunters advice I pour out
a line of urine defining the territory 30 meters around
my campsite. He warned me that only male urine works.
I didn't question it because after all he did get to be
an ...Old Grizzly hunter.
Commonsense accessories for touring include a referees
whistle, and little fisherman/treeplanters bells hung on bike
and person so they ring constantly.
A non-lethal bear deterrent of 10% capsicum, under pressure
is available under a variety of trade names such as Counter
Assault, or BearGuard. Couple this with a strong sense of self
protection. This is very effective on bears, dogs, and other
SOB's a cyclist might encounter. In all these years without
a close bear encounter, I've never ventured out unprepared.
Pred-it, the one I use is available in Canada from Home
Safety Supply, 1-800-661-2333 (have your credit card handy.)
For protection from mosquitoes, spray or dab Muskol on a
cheap ball cap and, when not on your head, store it in a
freezer bag out of sunlight.
At sleep time comfortable foam earplugs, a pillow made
from a semi-inflated bladder out of a 4 litre box of wine,
wrapped in a sweater, on a Thermo-rest self-inflating
mattress, inside a plus 10 degree sleeping bag and
you'll think you're at home in bed, well almost.
A nice extra touch is a sleep sheet stitched to fit your bag
with an integral pillow pouch. It's obtainable at any Youth
Hostel for under $20.00. I wouldn't leave home without one.
To me every campsite is user maintained and I practice
"zero impact" camping. No fires and pack out all my
garbage in a plastic bag tied to the top of my food
panniers until I reach the next bear proof garbage can.
In case of a bear encounter drop the bag as a fragrant
distraction. Trust me, it's an acceptable form of littering,
under the circumstances.
Bear proof garbage cans make excellent food pannier
storage. If you camp in a roadside rest area, and there
isn't a satisfactory tree available, tie the panniers to the
underside of the lid so that they hang inside, but not
touching the contents of the can. Put up your tent in sight,
at a safe distance.
There may be government workers (that's an oxymoron
isn't it?) who aren't aware of the policy of Do Not Disturb
The Cyclist Camped Overnight In Rest Areas, so if you
have a problem with them, or spot a "wreckreator," take
photos of the person, their vehicle license plate, note the
time, and get their name.
Fax or phone a complaint to the applicable Minister, or
State official and if necessary call for help from State Police,
or in Canada from the finest police force anywhere by dialing
0 and asking the operator to connect you with the RCMP.
This is your land you're protecting.
Terry Connellan is a veteran long distance cycle tourer who
occasionally shares his adventures. He freely admits
to having made every non-fatal mistake on the way
to acquiring a significant bank of cycling know-how.
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