After three years on the team at Bicycle Adventures, I finally embarked on my first bike tour this spring. Why did I wait so long, you ask? Well, years of running, skiing, and repeated injuries wore out one of my knees so riding a traditional bike just wasn’t comfortable or much fun for me. But last summer I finally got my cranky knee replaced and riding a bike became fun again! To celebrate one year of my bionic knee, I joined guests on our first San Juan Islands bike tour of the season this year, which is the tour that started it all for Bicycle Adventures back in 1984! 

Getting ready for my first bike tour I was admittedly a little nervous. Will I be able to ride all the miles? Will I be able to keep up with the “real cyclists” on the tour? But first, and most challenging for me personally, what do I pack?! 

That’s me on the left with my new friends Ben, Andrea, Susie, Beth, and Amy getting ready to head out for our first ride on Fidalgo Island, on our way to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal.

What do I pack for a week-long bike tour? 

Obviously, I’m familiar with the packing list that we share with guests. But what did I really need from that list? Everything? Certainly not. But definitely more padded bike shorts than I currently owned. So off I went to my local bike shop to try on bike shorts and chamois (aka shammy or padded shorts). When I didn’t find what I wanted locally, I started ordering online. The number of cycling shorts I tried on before finding “the one” (actually two) was absurd but having options ready for riding comfortably several days in a row made it worth the effort. I ended up with two liner-style chamois that I could wear under regular shorts and one full Bicycle Adventures cycling kit complete with bib chamois and a cycling jersey. For me, the most comfortable options had a high waist that wouldn’t roll down when I leaned over and soft, flexible padding. Remember that you’re wearing these as underwear. That’s right, no underwear under your chamois! You’ll get used to it and appreciate the lack of chafing from extra layers, I promise. For more on avoiding chafing read this article on how to use chamois cream from our friends at Cycling Weekly. 

The weather in the San Juans turned out to be a little breezy and cool on our trip so having layers and a good windbreaker was essential. I didn’t go out and buy a special cycling jacket just yet though, my lightweight raincoat that I’ve used for years while hiking worked perfectly. It’s brightly colored so I knew I would be easy to see on the road, and it packs down small enough that I also had room for a puffy coat that came in handy more than a few times on tour. I also got some new padded cycling gloves that were great for keeping my hands warm in the wind, protected from the sun, and comfortable on the grips. I’m not ready for clipless pedals yet so I opted to wear my old mountain bike shoes and even just regular sneakers one day. I love my bike helmet and since I wasn’t trying to fit it in a suitcase or carry-on bag, I brought it, but everyone else opted to use our helmets, so they had one less thing to fly with. 

My cycling kits. On the days I didn’t wear my jersey I opted for tech tees. You don’t have to be kitted out head to toe to be a real cyclist!!

With my cycling wardrobe decided upon I just needed to pack clothes for off the bike. Really only for dinners since my bike/activewear also worked for the hiking and kayaking included on this trip. I’m an admitted chronic over-packer so of course I brought way more than I needed (Sorry to Camille who had to heave my suitcase into the trailer)! Note to self: no one will notice or care if you wear the same pair of pants to dinner every night, especially if the weather doesn’t turn out as you expected. And you know you’ll never wear that sweater so just leave it at home! 

Can I do all the miles?  

Let’s be perfectly clear, I have never described myself as a cyclist. I love to ride my bike around my small town of Leavenworth, Washington (a stop on our American Alps and new Cascade Loop: North Cascades to Leavenworth bike tours), but I had just never gotten into longer road riding. Mountain biking is huge here, but it was painful to both my knees and my ego because it wasn’t something I’ve always done and been good at.  

To help rehab my knee I bought a used Peloton stationary bike, which I rode all fall and winter in my office to get fit for skiing (my true passion) and for my first bike tour. The Peloton is fun, and I was getting stronger but it’s not the same as riding outside, not even close. So, this spring, I bought one of Bicycle Adventures’ used e-bikes (there are still more for sale in our Gear Store if you’re interested) and I took my pedaling to the road. All the fun of grabbing my bike and heading out to who knows where as a kid came rushing back – riding this bike was fun!!  

My longest ride before I went to the San Juans was about 15 miles, so I was really nervous about being able to ride 40-plus miles in one day. But then I got on tour and the enthusiasm of the group and endorphins of being outdoors doing something new and fun kicked in and all the fears sort of melted away. Being able to lean on my e-bike battery to (nearly) effortlessly climb up hills and ride into the wind (darn Gale 😉) gave me the confidence that had been the missing piece of me falling for cycling and feeling comfortable with the label of “cyclist.”  

Living up to my shirt that reads Pedal Happy on this beautiful stretch of Lopez Island!

Now I don’t want to mislead anyone to believe this tour was a piece of cake for me. I still struggled from time to time, I almost fell over just trying to start riding in a gravel parking lot at one point, I came home with multiple scrapes on my ankles from my pedals (and now I know why cyclists wear socks that go up over them!), and I skipped that last really big climb of the ride. But I learned what “Pedal Happy” means to me – enjoy the ride! And I rode all the miles that I wanted to ride. Which turned out to be all but about 12 of 133 original miles offered. And I feel damn good about that accomplishment! 

Can I keep up with the “real cyclists”?  

As I said earlier, skiing is my sport. I was so young when I learned to ski that I don’t remember learning, it has just always been second nature. Riding a bike, on the other hand, I remember learning at around age 6. I distinctly remember going over the handlebars of my yellow banana seat bike and forever being afraid of feeling that again. But then I started talking to guests and colleagues at Bicycle Adventures and hearing tales of these gorgeous and fun bike rides and I felt like I was missing out. So, I decided I would do it, I would go on a tour and maybe even become a “real cyclist,” as if anyone who rides a bike is not already a real cyclist! 

I am in no way delusional enough to say that I kept up with the strongest cyclists on my tour. But I held my own with my new friends and gratefully accepted their encouragement, riding tips, and high fives. I quickly learned that keeping up with the pack isn’t what group cycling is all about for me. Yes, it can be fun to ride together and chat where the route allows. But I enjoyed staying at the back watching the stronger riders take turns leading the pack. And I learned things from my new friends like calling out “car back” when I heard a car approaching from behind, so they all knew to get back in a single file line for the car to pass. I found myself cruising along taking in the scenery, a smile pasted from ear to ear, repeating to myself “It’s so beautiful here!” and “This is so fun!”  

We always tell guests “It’s your vacation” to encourage them to ride as much or as little as will make them happy on tour. To find those “Pedal Happy” moments. I pushed myself to see what I could do at times on my tour and other times I whizzed up a hill with my e-bike battery on high for what I came to call self-preservation. It was my tour to ride how I wanted, and I loved every Pedal Happy moment of it.  

So, will I go on another bike tour? You better believe it! I never pass up a good adventure and that experience was about as good as it gets. And yes, I do consider myself a “real cyclist” now! If my story resonates with you as a first-time or beginner rider, check out our Beginner or All Levels tours. There’s never a wrong time for a first Bicycle Adventures tour! 

Last big ride day of the tour. With help from my new friends, I had so much fun and truly felt like a cyclist! This is what Pedal Happy is all about!