Do it Your Way - Emily Loberg
Emily Loberg grew up bicycling and traveling, but she didn’t put the two together until college. As a freshman, she went on a guided Spring Break trip to Kentucky and discovered a lasting love for bike travel. After graduating, Emily worked for several years to save enough money to make her dream come true: a solo bicycle tour across the United States.
Emily’s advice for would-be tourers? DO IT. And do it your way.
Emily, what would you say to a woman who’s considering bike touring solo for the first time?
First of all, DO IT. So many people will tell you that it isn’t safe for a woman to travel alone and try to discourage you. Don’t let that hold you back!
There was only one night on my entire four-month tour that I felt scared and vulnerable as a woman, and it was at a Warmshowers host’s house in Lewistown, Montana (we’ll explore that topic in Olivia’s next blog post). I’m not saying that it never happens or that it’s not a big deal—it’s really horrible and not okay that it happens at all. I’m saying don’t let that stop you from going. More women traveling alone will send the message that it’s a normal and acceptable thing to do and will inspire and reassure others. We can celebrate and empower each other with our adventures.
What kind of person do you need to be, to travel by bike?
You do not have to be an athletic person to do bicycle tours. I personally don’t consider myself an athlete and am not good at sports. You don’t have to be fast, and you can set goals and make plans that work for you. Cycling miles add up faster than people realize. On long climbs, get in a low gear, give yourself as much time as you need, and stop as many times as you want.
How should someone prepare for a long tour?
I recommend learning some bike mechanic basics—at the very least, know how to fix a flat tire on your bicycle. I worked at a bike shop for a while before my trip, and knowing how to fix my bike on the road helped me feel much more confident and prepared. Also, make sure you have a bike that fits and is comfortable to ride for hours on end. I doesn’t have to be a high-end or expensive touring bike; the important thing is that it’s a bike you enjoy riding!
Start out with some shorter trips or bike overnights. Maybe you have a friend you can visit in a nearby town or a state park in your area that would make a great camping trip. Bike overnights are a really fun way to experience bike touring when you don’t have a lot of time to leave for days on end.
“Talking to other cyclists about their adventures and ideas, and reading their stories, inspires me!”
Is there a “right way” to bike tour?
No. If you want to get up early and tackle the miles, do that! If you prefer to sleep in and enjoy slow mornings, that is great too! Cycle 100 miles each day or 20 miles each day; focus solely on the cycling or make lots of time to sight-see. Save money by stealth camping or splurge frequently on hotels. Follow a mapped bicycle route or stray according to whims. Or, try all of these on different days.
Whatever you choose, don’t let anyone make you feel “not good enough” because you’re not going as fast as them or getting up as early as them or are carrying more stuff than them. Of course, if you are cycling with a companion or a group, you’ll find yourself needing to compromise on these decisions, and that’s okay. In that situation, it’s important to find a balance between everyone’s desires and riding styles.
What about preparing mentally/emotionally for a long solo trip?
On tour, let yourself feel whatever emotions you’re feeling without judgment. Let yourself feel lonely or homesick. Let your butt ache and your wrists hurt. Let yourself both love and hate the sun and the rain and the hills if that’s how you’re feeling. Notice your feelings and be honest with yourself. Notice what you enjoy as well, and structure your tour around that. Relish lunch by the side of the road. Let yourself giggle while riding downhill. Challenge yourself to go farther and faster than you think you can; be proud and excited when you exceed your expectations, but know when to listen to your body and stop when you need to.
“Let yourself feel lonely or homesick. Let your butt ache and your wrists hurt… Be honest with yourself.”
Tell us about your first week or so on the road. Were you intimidated?
Fear started sneaking up on me before I even left. I might’ve delayed leaving if I hadn’t scheduled visits with friends and family along the first stretch. When the date came I didn’t feel ready at all, and I set off feeling like the trip was taking me rather than the other way around. On the first day, the giddiness of going melted away the fear, but it returned by the second riding day when I realized I had no idea what I was doing and had been way too ambitious when planning the daily mileage for my first stretch. After getting walloped by the first few days, I took some time off visiting friends and planned shorter daily mileages for the next stretch.
What kept you touring through hard times?
Talking to other cyclists about their adventures and ideas, and reading their stories, inspires me! Singing also fills me with joy and entertains me while I’m riding. And having more experiences always improves one’s writing, because it provides new ideas and greater depths of human understanding.
Did family/friends express concern for your safety? How did you respond to them?
Yes, my family expressed concern for my safety, though no one tried to convince me not to go. My mom in particular wished I would find someone to go with rather than going on my own. However, she was very supportive of the trip because she knew how important it was to me. She helped me run errands to shop for gear, cheered me on the whole way, and even joined my brother in Bar Harbor to meet me at the end of the tour.
“My family expressed concern for my safety, though no one tried to convince me not to go.”
I don’t think I gave very adequate or reassuring responses to expressions of concern—I mostly shrugged them off. My mom did ask me to text her every night and every morning, which I agreed to (and mostly followed through, except in areas with no service). It helped that I had spent time learning how to fix my bike, researching gear, and planning my route. The people who expressed the most concern were friends of my parents.
When people expressed concern/fear for what you were doing, how did that affect you?
In some ways, hearing concern and fear just made me feel defiant and more resolved to go on the trip. I’d wanted to go since high school and had been hearing doubt and concern since then and had really had enough. I especially wanted to prove people wrong when they said I couldn’t go alone as a woman. In other ways, hearing concern and fear added to my doubts. I was especially worried about where in the world I was going to sleep every night and how I was going to even figure that out. It all just seemed too big to feel sure about.
“In some ways, hearing concern and fear just made me feel defiant and more resolved to go on the trip.”
In contrast, what was it like when people were supportive?
Hearing encouragement and support was really exciting! Before I left I met with a couple in my hometown who had biked across the country, and their excitement for my trip was palpable. They were completely enthusiastic that I would be able to do the trip, and they were full of advice, tips, and answers to my questions. I felt much calmer and invigorated after meeting with them. My closest friends were excited for me as well, and it helped to have them understand and support me. Hearing encouragement rather than concern also made me feel less alone—like the trip I was about to go on wasn’t a bizarre thing that no one else would do. I loved finding people to talk to who thought it was really cool instead of just finding it weird and scary.