Dan Hoyt

Web developer/designer

No Takebacks: Observations and Advice

Here's a few pooled bits of wisdom on solo bicycle touring. Some of it may be relevant only to the U.S.

  • Your comfort is paramount.
    The longer the tour, the more important this becomes. Do everything you can to keep your morale up and your body at ease, from little treats to lots of breaks to a day off in a hotel.
  • Heat + friction + moisture = disintegration.
    With the sole exception of a leather saddle (if that's your thing), avoid organic fabrics and materials. Nothing is immune to the above formula, but cotton is especially vulnerable. All clothes, especially underwear, socks and gloves, should be a synthetic breathable fabric or a woolen-synthetic blend. Gel padding (as opposed to dense cotton padding) is a must for bike shorts. Synthetics also dry much faster than cotton.
  • Start slow, and know when to stop for the day.
    Limitless energy, single-minded devotion, and stubborn pride are fine fuel for a day's challenges, but they'll find out the weak spots in your body if you don't pace yourself. Take it easy when you start out, set modest goals based on training and above all be patient with healing. You did train, right?
  • Water resistant is not water proof, and water proof is a bold claim.
    Keep everything bagged, even if it's in a pannier. If you're using a tent with a ground sheet, make sure the resistant side is facing down. Don't put your faith in raincoats and ponchos. Better to find a safe spot to wait out the rain, if you can. If you can't get under cover, and it looks like you're in for a long stretch of wet weather, you may need to consider erecting a temporary shelter or catching a ride if your health and safety are at risk.
  • Test out all of your weatherproofing in the hardest conditions you can find or simulate. Only a drenching rain can tell you where moisture wicks even when you're properly layered. The wind will find out every flap to open and chill you. And when you think you've managed to keep it all out, flaws in your ventilation will soak you with perspiration.
  • Most products aren't designed for intense heat and cold.
    I wish I'd taken a picture of my expensive bike computer after a long summer ride rendered it so rubbery that you could depress your thumb into it and leave an impression. And then there's a missing picture of me trying to defrost a three season tent frozen solid after a snap snowstorm. (Hint: your perspiration inside the tent can freeze, too)
  • Road vibrations contribute to gear entropy
    Stuff can fall off your bike even when it's secured by getting jolted around for hours on end. Screws and bolts get loosened till they rattle, fall off or else snap off outright. Periodically check tightness of the rack screws. Tapes and removeable devices like taillights are the least secure. Treat noise as a likely indicator of future damage. Also, roads outside of city centers are often of considerably lower grade, meaning increased wear and vibration.
  • Weekends and after hours can be bad news in some small towns.
    The farther you stray from urban centers, the greater the likelihood that the town's off hours and weekends make for limited or no services. Reconsider a route closer to a highway with easily confirmed services. Finally, some small towns catering to military bases are likely to have nasty accommodations intended for liaisons.

Contingency planning for solo touring

You can't plan for everything, but consider these scenarios.
  • You are hit by a car. I can't give advice on this other than to say, you need to seriously plan for this contingency.
  • You are nicked by a car. Even without damage, try to signal the person who struck you to drive to a safe place for a chat. Make sure both of you are not injured, exchange contact info and all that, just to be safe.
  • You leave something behind. If this happens at a motel, there's a good chance you'll never see it again.
  • Your bike is stolen. If you don't lock your bike to something (wheel to frame, at the very least), you may never see it again.
  • You run out of a vital supply in the dark of night. A few needs require redundancy: light, fire, water, communication, and small device power. Have more than one source for each. Consider keeping a hand-crank emergency flashlight radio with a USB charge port for a night-time recharge.
  • You can't fix your bike, and you're in the middle of nowhere. It's not completely safe, but sticking your thumb out and making eye contact may be your only option when things go south.
  • Your phone goes kaput. Keep a contact list on a laminated card, along with your medical info, on your person at all times.
  • Your phone can't get service. Don't count on reception outside of urban areas. At the very least, keep a backup paper map of your route.
  • "Hey, you thirsty, bro?" You will be offered any number of things by random people, most or all of whom want to help you. Don't be afraid to offer a polite but firm decline if things don't feel right. Don't take rides unless you are dead certain it will be safe. If you find yourself getting funneled into a weird situation, bail out any way you can.
  • No vacancy. You may arrive at your destination to find that accommodations are all booked, or there simply are no accommodations. Decide in advance what your strategy should be, because you don't want to be hanging out around a gas station or Wal-mart at 3AM. See my notes on stealth camping.
  • You ride into a rough part of town. No shame in turning around and asking someone if there's a safer route. If you must go on (especially if night approaches), can you find your way to a road with high visibility and lots of vehicle traffic?
  • Someone shouts something rude at you. Sticks and stones, of course, but is there a likelihood of escalation? If they're in a car, what risk do you take when you let the bird fly?
  • Someone on foot throws something at you. Kids do this sometimes when their friends are nearby. Honestly, I still don't know if there's a right reaction to this other than to keep riding even if you get hit. What are you going to do, pick a fight with a little kid?
  • Someone in a car throws something at you. Some people lack a conscience, or at least forethought and decency. A strike thrown at high velocity could seriously injure you, or more likely, cause you to have a wreck. Always wear a helmet. A backpack and fanny pack provide some shielding.
  • Someone in a car harasses or bullies you. If someone is using their vehicle to intimidate you, such as coal-rolling or tailing, you need to do some quick math about threat level. Using your camera to film them in action or talking on your phone usually makes them go away, but could provoke an escalation. If they won't let up and you don't have access to an exit, you are in danger and should immediately call 911.
  • Your route is dangerously detoured. Often detours have no shoulder or safe space. Happens all the time in the northern climes during the summer.
  • Animals can steal your food and attack you. From raccoons to mountain lions, these things are not likely but they do happen. I still want to throttle the trash bandit that knocked over my bike and bypassed my pannier tie-down to steal an entire six pack of bagels.
  • Your route has a sign that says "no bicycles". There are federal guidelines and state laws governing bicycle access to highways; most roads are accessible to bicyclists except for interstate highways and certain limited access freeways. Some municipal entities may put up signs saying otherwise. They may be lacking legal authority when the road is federally funded. Perhaps you could win your day in court, but is it worth the time and effort unless it's a chokepoint that you can't bypass?
  • Your route has a chokepoint with dangerous conditions. Construction areas are frequent during warm seasons, and you may find yourself funneled into a lane with no space. Get ready for an uncomfortable, possibly hostile ride. Most motorists are considerate, but heavy trucks have a dire hatred for your kind. Whatever you do, don't let yourself get forced onto even more dangerous conditions, such as an unpaved sloped shoulder. How does one accomplish this feat? Sometimes you just have to take up a whole lane. Make eye contact with the driver behind you, shrug, then put your back into it. Their hate is short-lived, car horns won't hurt you, and they probably won't intentionally murder you.
  • What if someone points a gun at you? However unlikely, this situation is a product of risks you take: stealth camping, knocking on doors for directions, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't have a ready answer, but if the prospect is daunting, consider removing these risks.
  • What if you get frostbite, heatstroke, or hypothermia? This was a serious question in the days before cell phones. The odds of hitchhiking a ride to a hospital with a serial killer are nonetheless smaller than you think. Stinging pride is a small price for staying alive. American hospital bills, though. That's a high price.

Get ready for the same questions and comments over and over again.

Local color added for effect
  • How many miles a day you get on that thing?
  • How heavy is all that stuff?
  • What kinda job you got where you can do that all day?
  • Where do you sleep at night?
  • Aren't you afraid of serial killers?
  • How many flats do you get?
  • Would you mind if I gave you some money to help you out?
  • Do you do all your own cookin'?
  • Doesn't your butt hurt?
  • What happens when it rains?
  • My dog's friendly, he won't bite, he just wants to say hi! (chomp)
  • Don't you get bit by snakes and stuff?
  • Austin, Minnesota?
  • How do you go to the bathroom?
  • Don't lie to me, I know you ain't come that far.
  • (to child) Don't talk to him, honey, that's a crazy person.

Only bicyclists know bicycling conditions

Americans perceive distance by the time it takes to drive somewhere, and they are incapable of extrapolating their experiences into data that you can use. No matter their goodwill, the best you can hope for is that they will know what their immediate road connects to. They can't be relied on for shoulder conditions, elevation change, and road quality. This gets dangerously close to a rant, but absolutely do not rely on them for mileage estimation. "How far to the next town?" "Oh, about five miles." (correct answer: 30)

These days, this is not so much a problem unless you're a luddite or you can't get cell phone service where you are. In that case, trust them as far as you can throw them.

On meeting other cyclists

On my tours, I rarely encountered other cyclists, let alone the touring variety. As such, meeting others of my own kind was often complicated and a little weird. On one hand, they are brethren of the wheel worldwide, to be celebrated. The companionship of like minds is refreshing. On the other hand, among men at least there is a great deal of subtle posturing and the odd pissing contests on first meet. Veterans of previous tours may carry a superior bearing, and younger ones casually tout the dangers and conflicts they've overcome.

I think much of the status sorting owes to the surge in aggression. We sustain intense metabolic rates for days or months at a time, compounded by massive lifestyle disruption, removal of comforts, and increased pain. The bicycle isn't the only thing with screws getting loosened. Or maybe it's just all that riding around in public wearing lycra bootyshorts, leaving us with something to prove.

Dog attacks

Your experience will vary by location, but in Texas and Southern states this is probably the biggest threat besides road conditions. The more isolated the road, the likelier you'll attract the attention of one or more dogs with territorial attachment. This boils down to four classes of threat level:

  1. Yapper class. Small companion breeds, as well as old or especially fat dogs, present little threat other than to themselves. Don't take any defensive measures other than to put distance between you, or a strong shout.
  2. Working dog class. Medium dogs bred for shepherding work are strikingly fast, and have a strong prey drive. They will give good chase but aren't likely to maul you, generally speaking. Best defensive measure: distance, shout, Halt! or pepper spray. They are not likely to stay engaged up close for very long, so your biggest threat is having an accident while trying to crank your speed up.
  3. Aggressive class. Pit bulls, untrained German shepherds, and the like. There's no point in shouting. They're not as fast as working dogs, but they still have a good power run. Ride fast or use generous Halt!/pepper water.
  4. Dog packs. Mostly encountered in rural and semi-rural areas away from main roads, as well as light industrial areas where they're used as cheap guard labor. Pack tactics range from a single lead dog with the rest in tow, to a disorganized rabble charging you from one flank. You can take a chance with pepper spray to the lead dog, which should take others down with it as it stops, or you can trust to speed.

I read about a bicyclist chased and bitten by a great dane. I suppose there should be a fifth category, "WTF".

If you find yourself fending off a dog with other techniques, like kicking, you still might be better off by pedaling. Dogs are better biters than you are a reverse kicker, and there are so many things that can go wrong.

For aggressive situations that you can't safely outride, consider Halt!, a reduced strength pepper spray designed for dog attacks. It has a higher volume and range than consumer pepper spray, and it is more humane by way of reduced capsaicin content. It also won't set you back ten bucks every time you fire off a line.

If you are traveling through known dog country (in my case, all of East Texas), consider buying a Super Soaker or similar water gun with pressurized action. Fill it with water and a slurry of fresh jalapeno (not canned), or cayenne pepper. Then you can just lay down that beam of low intensity capsaicin. I cannot be held responsible for you taking a header while firing water guns at dogs, but at least you won't run out of ammo.

It would be entirely irresponsible of me to suggest that you ride to the other side of the road in the hopes that the dog gets hit by a car during the chase scene, because that would put other people at risk.


Social invisibility is a myth some of us indulge, and bicycle touring in America dispels it entirely. You cannot escape being out of place twenty-four hours a day. There will never be a time when someone doesn't notice you in a crowd. Not until you lose it will you even know it existed. I can't say you'll love it or hate it, but it will be undeniable.

In some places, politeness dictates that one does not stare, leaving a courtesy screen when the veil is pulled back. In others, some will crane their necks and you'll feel their heads pan as you pass by.

Only a few places are so dang weird that people won't bat an eye. Even so, weirdness loves company and others may be drawn to you like moths to a light. Get ready for random people to approach you for basic social comforts when they have absolutely nothing in common other than being out of place.

Even when you are off the bike, your purpose (and possibly your clothing) will flag you as a tourist if not a stranger.

You can acclimate to it quickly, and it may be that you are never self-conscious about it. If the loss of privacy bothers you, perhaps consider a lonelier route in the western states, or an offroad tour (there are many, of which the continental divide mountain biking tour is the undisputed king).


Perhaps you are secure in your faith and have a ready answer for the door-to-door solicitor of souls. Maybe you're open to new ideas, just not right at this very minute. Or you may even resort to the strategy of agreeing with them on every point.

Guess what. It doesn't matter! Once you lock eyes with the off-brand proselytizer, you are enjoined in primal conflict. Because most of them have a schpiel that just needs to get spun, and there's no way around it.

It's not always religion. Sometimes it's an MLM or a peculiar feeling about taxes. And that dude living on his bicycle smelling like a homeless camp, he absolutely has to know about it.

It doesn't matter how you respond, because they won't let you get a word in edgewise and even if you do, it's off to the next line in the script.

There is no solution to this, no right combination of words that shuts them up and lets you exit with grace. Ready your own variation of "Thanks for your interest, gotta ride now".

Stealth camping in America

On my first tour in 1997, the better part of my camping occurred in free places. In rural areas and small towns, you can generally find a place to throw down where no one bothers you. However, you run the risk of being targeted by police, criminals of opportunity, weirdos, teenagers being teenagers, and extra-legal vigilantes.

Warning! Bad advice ahead! Follow at your own peril.

There are alternatives when you can't find or can't afford accommodations. All of these sound like terrible ideas, and they are, but they worked for me at the time. I suppose it helps when you're young and not in any way intimidating.

  • Befriend a resident/knock on doors and ask to camp outside in someone's yard. I relied on this technique the most. The likelihood of an old lady coming out and giving you tea and a bible is far greater than ending up in a serial killer's backyard.
  • Ask a cop if there's a place in town where you can camp for free. Yes, I said ask a cop. I mean, definitely don't do this in L.A. or Chicago or any town with a sizeable homeless population, but some towns actually do have free accommodations for travelers, from campsites to RV hookups*. Worst case scenario, the cop gives you an incredulous look and asks for some ID. On my second tour, the town didn't have a motel, and while asking a cop, an old dude listening on a police scanner called dispatch to offer their place.
    * During the halcyon days before 9/11, anyway…
  • Outside of hunting season, find where state lands are. Even if it's not a park, you should be able to duck away into the thick—it might even not be illegal.
  • There is a slew of unpopulated spots outside of urban areas that are ripe for camping with a tent, if you're willing to keep the lights off.

I would add that most cops know where all the hideouts are in their town and may check them routinely.

On my 97 tour, I ran into a motorcyclist "living the life" who stealth camped regularly, and he told me some horror stories about small town cops flushing him out. Not quite an Easy Rider ending, but still scary stuff.

If you do end up stealth camping, cover up all reflective material on your bike and tent. There's more on there than you think. Don't even light a candle, let alone a cooking fire. Eat some dry food like a Cliff bar, drink some water, and refrain from libations. Do keep a couple of exits handy, enjoy the peace and quiet, and stay dressed in your civvies, because it might get drafty wearing lycra shorts when they chuck you in jail for trespassing with all those other professional criminals (cue some Arlo Guthrie). And if you hear something crashing through the woods, it's probably just a cute small animal, and definitely not a serial killer or a bear that can smell your peanut butter from a mile away. The peanut butter invisibly smeared all over the tent. Bears love that stuff; have you seen what they do to trash cans? Crumple them up like paper. They're just going to tear that tent right open to get that.

Body Heat

In warm and cold seasons, your limits are directly determined by your metabolism's principle by-product.

In cold weather, fingers and toes are especially vulnerable to icy wind and elements, compounded by sustained compression and forward positioning away from the warmer core. You might be inclined to wear heavy insulated gloves, but you will frequently need to use your digits, making for frequent glove removal. To this end, consider a warm sensitive liner with an easily removable shell. Also consider using a mitten shell with enough room for chemically activated hand warmer inserts. Be wary of waterproof claims, as a heavy rain will find a way to wick inside the glove. Worse still, if you don't provide enough venting, the exertion can quickly convert your sweat into clammy liquid suffering. For your shoes, you can buy windblocking waterproof shells. Chemically activated foot warmers are much trickier, as you may be forced to squeeze them into the shoe, resulting in additional compression discomfort.

If you're camping in cold weather, do not skimp on sleeping bags, ground pads, and wool socks. Again, chemically activated warmers are a lifeline if you don't have the means for a proper campfire.

In hot weather, water circulation and sweat are key. Keep water containers out of the sun. When you swing by gas stations, load up on ice and keep the water as cold as you can. And always carry more water than you think you'll need.

Even in mild weather, a rain can become a miserable experience. Just the interior perspiration caused by waterproof enclosures can swamp or chill you.


The character of the wind in an area is profoundly impactful. It's not just a matter of direction and speed. Certainly, a headwind will slow you down, and a tailwind will speed you up. And maybe if you are a total machine, it's just one more little detail that enters your calculations. But few winds are ever so simple. They whip and snap, they buffet, they lead you into temptation and then utterly punish you. They are a metaphor sink for every aspect of cruelty and caprice.

A pounding headwind doesn't just slow you down. It sneaks in punches from several directions, it fills your ears with roaring noise, and it throws everything you have away. A crosswind will force you into a lean, and it will scour you to a polish with sand and dirt. The worst winds are the little vortexes that push and pull you unpredictably.

Sailors had a smart love affair with the wind; they planned their routes around its patterns, and they learned how to work with its temperament. Touring bicyclists do not have this luxury because highways do not follow wind patterns. Road maps don't have wind direction guides. At best, you can survey the prevailing wind patterns from weather sites, and other cyclist anecdotes. In the end, you just have to take whatever it throws at you.

"I know what you should do! You should…"

"…get a corporate sponsor!"

"…call the tv and get interviewed!"

"…sell your artwork on the road!"
No, that's a terrible idea, who would ever even try that.

"…keep a patreon or fundraiser for your trip!"
Yeah, that would have been good. I might recommend that if there's a financial challenge.