Why It’s Important to Experience the World and Meet People From Different Cultures

Riding Wild - Eric and Olivia

We are both designers based out of Austin, TX. Olivia is a Product Designer with a passion for textiles and patterns and Eric is a Graphic Designer who specializes in illustration. We both love the outdoors and art, and strive to spend our free time doing one of the two.

Eric has thru hiked both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, he even co-filmed, edited and produced a documentary about the PCT called, “Do More With Less,” domorewithlessfilm.com with his friend Travis Barron.

How and why did you get into cycling?

Sometimes opportunity comes around at the right time and all you have to do is say, “YES!” I ran into Eric after he had just finished hiking the PCT and asked if he was still considering his crazy idea of cycling around the world, he confirmed his plans to leave in about a year. I couldn’t get his idea out of my head and a year advanced warning worked well for me, so I asked to join him. He said he didn’t want to do it alone, but neither of us really knew what we were signing up for. It seemed like one of those things you’d only regret not doing.

For a year we planned, gobbled up every book and blog about people doing similar adventures and got more and more excited. We especially credit: World Cycling, Bikepacking.com, Cass Gilbert, and Traveling Two, with providing awesome information and making our dream a tangible goal. We started with a vague idea of where we wanted to go, narrowing it down further by best weather and places we wanted to see most. Then we started figuring out logistics, this is the not so fun but very necessary part of figuring out visas, vaccines, insurance, budget, etc. Not everyone does this much planning, but we both have a similar way of tackling problems and prefer to know more than less. Oddly enough, we spent very little time preparing physically for such a physically demanding adventure. We both cycled to commute and would go on weekend rides, but nothing crazy. There are not many mountains in Texas and aside from a few weekend bikepacking trips, we had very little experience in bikepacking.

Riding Wild

Why is cycling and adventuring important for you?

Cycling is the perfect way to experience a place, you can cover greater distances than walking and see more than you would in a car. Cycling is also a very budget friendly way to travel, but really traveling is only as expensive as you make it. We both enjoy a physical challenge, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about earning your way to see a place rather than getting dropped off at the top.

Also, cycling makes you more reliant on those around you. This reliance allows you a reason to interact with people and makes you more approachable as a visitor, which usually leads to awesome experiences. This kind of vulnerable international travel made us see how easy it is to travel and that nothing is off limits. People are good and kind and things have a way of working out. It is important to experience the rest of the world and see how other people live, it gives priceless perspective that I am still trying to digest.

What have been the best parts of your cycle adventures?

The people, the views, and the challenges. People in every country, include the USA, have gone above and beyond to help us and inspire us to return the generosity and kindness we have received. The places we have seen have changed my soul. Many people ask, “Don’t you get bored just riding a bike all day?” Honestly, No. When you are surrounded by some of the worlds highest mountains with no man-made anything in sight — it is mesmerizing. And with the good comes the bad, not everything is sunshine and flat smooth pavement, bikepacking is mostly about hard work. And I’d be lying if I said I always had a positive outlook on every mountain climb. But it is the challenges that have grown me personally, proving to myself what I am capable of and teaching myself patience and how to work through something difficult.

Riding Wild

What have been the most difficult parts?

Budgeting for the trip was challenging, a lot of self-discipline and commitment to what was ahead. Luckily, we both have always lived frugally so it wasn’t too much of a departure from our regular lifestyles; mainly just going back to crap beer from craft beer. We both used our entire savings for this but hope to come back to a little “start up” cash.

The most difficult part is the constant planning. It takes a lot of work to keep up long term travel, but this is a burden we’ve put on ourselves. We spend a lot of time looking at whats a head and are in a constant state of planning for tomorrow, a week from now and a month from then. But it doesn’t have to be that way, many people choose to travel more fluidly. Another aspect is mental stability, we try to work in enough off time to not get so beaten down physically and emotionally.

Of course, it is difficult being away from home and friends for so long. We both go in and out of homesickness, but remind each other that this awesome opportunity of time and experience we have given ourselves may not come as easily again. Things don’t always work out, you get sick, travel can be very stressful and you start to wonder “Is this what I really want to be doing?!” then I talk to friends at home and “not much has changed,” and I think about everything that has happened to me in just a week and how I couldn’t even begin to explain it all and I am grateful and reminded of how lucky I am to be able to travel. You never regret travel.

Riding Wild

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

We eat and sleep according to our budget and how it fits into whatever country we are in. If it is expensive like Europe, we’re in hostels or wild camping eating grocery store food. If it is cheaper like Southeast Asia, we can get hotel rooms and eat in cheap restaurants or food vendors. We’ve slept everywhere from beautiful beach side cabanas in Thailand to stacked rock huts in the Himalayas. The most memorable experiences are the times people have invited us into their homes, which happens way more than you’d expect.

Here’s our dirty little secret: we hate to cook. I like to cook at home, but on the road the extra effort of prep and cleaning is just not worth it to me. We eat everywhere, street stall, outdoor market, it doesn’t really matter. Of the many times I have gotten food poising, it has mostly been from “nice restaurants.” Half the fun of visiting a new country is eating the local cuisine, don’t fear the street food.

Riding Wild

What is your best advice for new cyclists and bikepackers?

Go light! The lighter you are the happier you’ll be. You don’t need all those changes of clothes, extra cooking supplies, or “just in case” items. Eric learned quickly to go light while backpacking so going light while cycling was an easy transition. You see many people with four fully-loaded panniers and a huge dry bag on top – What could you possibly have in there?! We have everything we have needed for a year+ of travel, in every kind of environment possible in just a front roll, frame bag, and saddle bag. Also, you can get whatever you need anywhere you go. Wait until you are there to get more location specific items, it’ll probably be cheaper too!

Ride with GPS is an awesome route planning site and app we like to use to help navigate, it also tells you elevation and distance to help plan your days. MapsMe is another great free app, it’s an open source map that will surprise you with how much information it has, and it works great offline. And don’t forget Google Translate!

As for getting started, we have seen everyone from a 67-year-old cyclists, solo women cyclists, entire families cycling — any one can do it. Jobs come and go, you’ll get a new job if you have to. Whatever your situation, you can make it happen if you want it to.

Riding Wild

How do you prepare for your cycling adventures and travels?

We usually have a route in mind that we want to ride that dictates where we want to go. The places that are best for cycling might not be the best for sightseeing or backpacking. We do a lot of research on the area figuring out resupply points, best time of year to visit, and configuring the route on Ride with GPS.

We started our ride with very little physical experience and it was very painful at first. I’d highly suggest doing a lot of fully weighted shorter trips to build up your muscles, riding a bike is very different from riding a weighted bike.

Riding Wild

How do you finance your cycle trips?

This trip is self financed. It is incredibly hard to get sponsors if you are not a none profit, although you may be able to manage some gear. I wish we would’ve teamed up with a non-profit to help raise funds and bring more of a cause to our ride. We budgeted for $20 a day each, this is pretty mid-range and you could definitely do it for cheaper. Visiting cheaper places in the world like Asia and South America helps a lot.

We spent about $3,000 on bikes, bags, and gear — again, this is about mid-range and could be done for cheaper. After the initial upfront cost we spend the most on travel, the one down side of traveling with bicycles is the additional airfare fees. Always check airline bicycle policies, this can drastically change the price of your flight.

Riding Wild

How do you balance normal life with cycling?

We kind of went all in on our first trip. An international bikepacking trip for 18 months of solid travel is a lot for first timers. This was a huge project and undertaking, although totally worth it, we did have to quit our jobs and put our regular lives and careers on hold.

I think it is possible to lead an adventurous lifestyle while also accomplishing other goals; career, hobby, family, etc. We both have career goals and enjoy our work, so we probably won’t take another long trip like this for a while. We look forward to doing shorter month to three month long trips in the future. I think a month long trip is a great amount of time to balance a regular job, kids, and a house while still getting to go on an epic adventure. Many people just assume their jobs would never let them take that kind of time off, but you really just have to set your lifestyle standard and ask.

Riding Wild

Can you share your gear set up?

Bag set up:
Back rack with modified (we made some extra straps for it) Carradice Super C Saddlebag 23 L.
Inside: Clothes, electronics, misc.

Frame bag: Porcelain Rocket Roll Top
Inside Olivia: food stuff, bike pump, tent poles
Inside Eric: food stuff and stove

Front set up:
Revelate Handlebar Harness with a 20L Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag
Inside Olivia: sleeping system and down jacket
Inside Eric: sleeping system, down jacket, and tent
Revelate Handlebar Bag
Inside Olivia: more accessible electronics (phone, head lights, etc) snacks, toiletries
Inside Eric: same plus camera lens

Smaller bags:
Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem Bag – for extra bottle holder
Revelate Jerry Can – for extra parts, first aid kit
Revelate Gas Tank – for tools, more spare parts, sunglasses

We strap a spare tire to the stem of our seat and have a small Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag 5L wedged behind the seat with our ULA CDT backpack inside.

We have been really happy with our set up, it is just enough room for everything we need and if we ever need more we have a regular net to strap on the back bag to easily carry more food, etc. If you have too much room it encourages you to fill it, usually with unnecessary items that just mean more weight. With our current set up, we can manage about three days worth of food and if needed, we would use our backpacks for more. Since we are on a longer trip, we needed more room than in a traditional bikepacking set up but felt the traditional pannier set up was too much room. We also prefer the bikepacking bags to panniers for dirt because the bags being centrally located feels better when you ride and everything can be strapped down tight and secure.

Many of our bikepacking bags are from small homegrown companies, as bikepacking is still a fairly new practice. All of the bags have preformed well and we really like to support local companies. The only thing we couldn’t find was a good camera bag to be able to strap on to the handlebars. It was important to us that the cameras be easily accessible so Olivia modified an existing camera bag to have straps and Eric carried his in a small backpack with the laptop. There seem to be more larger bag options on the market now then when we started. Since we have such little room you have to stay organized, everything has its spot and we keep the more useful daily items easily accessible in exterior pockets. Roll tops tend to preform better than zippers and we did a little tweaky to make things extra secure to our specific set up.

The bikepacking community is growing and so are these smaller brands. Things have greatly changed even in the year and a half since we bought all our gear. We used and abused REI’s return policy and went through many rounds of different kinds of set ups until we found this, which works for us. There were many weekends we dedicated to getting all our gear together, literally everything we planned to bring, and packing it up and fully loading the bikes, you have to actually go through the motions to know for sure how things will work. It is really just a matter of testing out different set ups and figuring out what works best for your needs and your specific trip.

Riding Wild

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

We’ve been pleased with all of our gear and have definitely put it to the test. A few things we’d like to call out are:

  • Sea to Summit Small Inflatable pillow – it’s kind of a luxury camping item but I love having a pillow and use it on buses and planes.
  • Steripen Ultra – we’ve used it extensively and it’s still going, and we love the USB rechargeable feature.
  • Camelback Mule Backpack – Eric is carrying a laptop and camera equipment and felt it was safest to keep these items in a backpack while riding, plus it allows for easily access to the camera, which is essential for taking photos regularly, ok ok this is like $110

Riding Wild

What other favorite gear do you have?

Obviously, our Surly Trolls have been awesome, we made a lot of upgrades (see http://ridingwild.org/gear/ for details) and have had only minor mechanical issues. We’re also going tubeless and have had under five flats between the two of us in a year, that’s pretty awesome!

All of our bike bags have worked great, we’d recommend: Revelate, Porcelain Rocket, and Wanderlust.

We carry a lightweight ULA Equipment backpack called the CDT that is super compact and allows us to go on treks during our trip.

Mountain Hardware items: clothing and sleeping bags and all have been awesome!

Riding Wild

What will the future bring?

Traveling has only opened our eyes to more travel opportunities and learning about new places to see, so our next adventure list is pretty extensive. But for now we are focused on our current trip. Soon we will be getting settled back in the States and doing some adventuring in our own country. We planned to move to Portland, Oregon to be closer to the mountains.

Follow Eric and Olivia on their website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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