Cycle Touring for Health and Happiness

By Laura Killingbeck

Last year I tore my acl (anterior cruciate ligament) and had reconstruction surgery. I ended up in bed for quite a while, and even after a year of rehabilitation, my leg muscles were pretty atrophied. The right leg was okay, but lefty looked like a sick string bean.

I’ve never been able to emotionally commit to gyms. I have a hard time accepting the scenario that I would pay someone to allow me to pick up heavy objects and put them down again–or worse yet, to run on an electrical robot that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s my cyber punk nightmare.

So, in order to get back on my feet again after rehab, I decided to use the only health and wellness fail-safe that’s ever worked for me—get dropped off somewhere far away, and then find my way back by foot or pedal.

Luckily my parents were great sports in this. So this June they loaded up the mini van, drove me and my bike north for a couple days, and dropped me off in a forest in south Quebec.

I packed my gear on my bike and set off due west.   Immediately I felt anxieties dissipate as my body recognized itself in the steady motion of forward momentum. Over the next three months I cycled in a winding circle around the Saint Lawrence River, up to Labrador and Newfoundland, and back down through the Canadian Maritimes and Eastern United States. My partner Scott joined me for about half the trip, from Montreal to Nova Scotia. By the time I rolled back into my parents’ driveway in Rhode Island, I had gone over 3700 miles, and both legs looked like legs again.

Throughout this trip I encountered wonderful wild animals, made friends in unlikely places, forded over a dozen rivers, and got lost in landscapes I was happy to be lost in. In Gros Morne, Newfoundland, I got to touch the earth’s mantle; at the Bay of Fundy I walked across the ocean floor. I learned that you can smelt iron nails out of peat bogs, and that cloudberries taste like pumpkin apricots. I was shown extraordinary kindness by people I’d never met, and grew in perspective as well as strength.

Long days on the road in wild places can have their challenges—there may be rain and headwinds, deserts that feel very hot, and mountains that feel very tall. But the rewards of those journeys always lasts a lifetime. I think the biggest secret to cycle touring is that its much easier and simpler than most people think. Pretty much anyone can bike pretty far if they pack right and keep moving the pedals. And if you’re happy camping in forests and eating simple foods, it can be quite an inexpensive way to see the world. Fancy gear is not necessary.

In my life I’ve been lucky to experience a number of long overland journeys by thumb, foot, and pedal. I’ve also been lucky to work for many years on small organic farms. I think there is a strong correlation between my love of moving in nature by foot and pedal, and my love of whole foods and sustainable farming.

As humans we are made of many things—genes, microbes, our past, our present, our culture–and all the mysterious factors that make us our own special snowflakes. But every part of this identity as physical and emotional creatures constantly shifts and transforms in relation to the food we eat, the air we breathe, the community that surrounds us, and the thoughts that pass or linger in our minds. Working with soil and earth, or pedaling through air and light, are both beautiful reminders of our own human transformation within a larger cycle.

I remember heading out for my first bike tour around Iceland when I was twenty-one. I was alone, on a shoestring budget, and had no cycling experience. I didn’t know what to pack, or what to expect, or even how to adjust my own bike seat. In the twelve years since then, I’ve toured about 12,000 miles around the world, and have a little more experience packing and planning for trips. My style of touring is fairly simple and rugged. I don’t go fast or fancy. But I go, and seem to keep going.

I love connecting with other cyclists and people who want to start cycling. If you want to learn more, I’m giving a presentation at Round the Bend Farm Open Farm Day, on Saturday, November 17, from 10:00 to 11:00 AM. I’ll have my loaded touring bike (Tiny Troll) with me, show pictures from my last trip, and explain the basics of packing and preparing for independent long distance cycling journeys. Everyone who arrives by bike gets a free high five. Hope to see you there!