Those who taking up mountain biking and find that they enjoy long rides to new places, quickly find that they have to learn to read maps more and more in order to discover new trails and routes. Before long, these maps get bigger and bigger and cover greater areas. If you’re a keen cyclist, and you’ve ever caught yourself flicking through an atlas of the world, imagining yourself negotiating the road to Dien Bien Phu, or following the pedal motions of Jeremy Fitch, who cycled the length of Chile at the age of fifty-four, you’ve probably also wondered for more than a moment about how feasible it would be to do so.
Of course, there are no generic answers to the fundamental part of this question. Only you know how much freedom you can have. If you need to take care of an elderly parent or a sick child on a daily basis, you will have to take your trip some other time. If you think you can’t do it for fear of losing ground in the rat race, you might consider dropping out of that particular competition and living your life for yourself.
When you finally take the decision to turn your dream trip into a reality, it can be difficult to figure out where to begin. You do know, however, that you’re going to need a bicycle. In case you haven’t already got one, or you’re not sure if the one you have is up to the task, you need to make sure you choose the right tool for the job. Firstly, think about the suspension – will you be riding mostly on asphalt, dirt roads, off road or a mixture? Avoid carbon frames which are usually too delicate and go for a steel frame if you think your bike will be taking a few knocks, or an aluminum one if weight is a big concern. It goes without saying that it should be as comfortable as possible to ride.
You’ll need money, but if you’re traveling internationally, and to rural areas, it’s difficult to know what to take. You don’t want to be carrying too much in cash. If you are carrying a good amount of cash, keep it in a money belt where only you can get to it. Local currency is preferable but US dollars and Euros are generally accepted or easily changed. You might get a poor exchange rate, but carrying all your cash in local bills is risky as it might not be easily converted when you cross a national frontier. Credit cards which can be used at ATMs in cities are a good idea as, if they are stolen, you are unlikely to lose money. The downside is that international withdrawals can come with exorbitant fees– make your withdrawals count.
Don’t try to carry a lot of expensive biking gear with you. Take whatever basics you need and pick the rest up as you go along. Bicycles can be found the world over, so wherever there are people, you have a chance of finding another spare inner tube and so on. Stock up on essential kit before attempting any long treks through uninhabited areas. You should also take a supply kit suited to such areas, including a mosquito net, UV protection and flashlight and so on.
Be sure to arrange as many visas as possible before you set off. Do the same for any vaccinations you may need, and be aware that some vaccinations can take up to six months to start working. It may also be worthwhile taking relevant parts of maps with you – in some countries it can be surprisingly difficult to find good, contoured, up to date maps of the local area. There are apps which you can use on your phone for this, without a signal or GPS, but you still need your phone’s battery to have some power. A folded map is usually worth the small space it takes up.
Most importantly, read up on the areas you’ll be visiting. You are sure to have wonderful adventures, meet friendly people and see fantastic things, but you also need to know about the local dangers, be they dangerous roads, wild dogs, dangerous insects, scams or political strife.