Last week I was having a chat with a friend about different styles of bike trips. John and I have done all types of bike tours, including structured group tours, partially pre-planned tours with a few friends, and trips on our own or with a few friends, where only the start/finish point is pre-planned, and the rest is done on the fly. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.
On an organized trip with a large group, you may meet and ride with lots of new people as well as some old friends. You might also have the bad luck to find a PITA (pain in the a$$) among the group! Many organized trips include vehicle support to carry gear, as well as providing snacks and support throughout the day, allowing one to fly up mountain passes without carrying a lot of stuff on the bike. Organized trips also come with assurances that you will have a place to eat and sleep, at a known distance. They also typically include a well-scouted route and a good set of directions. Occasionally, though, the directions can leave you desiring more while the actual distance can leave you wishing for less! Disadvantages with a pre-planned route are that one can't really make big changes based on weather, or the discovery of an interesting road or a cool looking place to stay.
While we've certainly enjoyed having someone else carry our gear over the high mountain passes, we usually find ourselves doing more of the roll-your-own type trips. A big advantage is cost and flexibility. Eliminating a support van and staff clearly saves a bit of money. But we also find that we can pick and chose when to stay in the more expensive accommodation and when to go very basic. Sometimes circumstance and availability limit choices, but we've found we can do a self-supported tour with good food and drink and sleep for a fraction of the cost of a supported tour.
Of course sometimes this means riding a few extra miles because every room in town is booked, or staying in an expensive 4 star hotel because nothing else is available, or finding a gem of a cheap 1 star room!
I told my friend about one memorable night on our trip to France last fall. We stayed with friends for the start and end of the trip, and did a tour where we made loose plans one or two days at a time. Since we had no commitments to be at a set place each night, we were able to make adjustments based on weather and interesting looking roads.
But we made a slight miscalculation one day that resulted in one of our best memories of the trip. John had noticed a nice looking B&B in a tiny village the week prior. As we were exploring every mountain pass in a small area, we planned to ride back through this village (on a different road) and aim for this B&B. The forecast in the morning was a bit dodgy, so we had given ourselves the option of not going over a big pass to get to this village, and instead aiming for a larger town. As such we had not called ahead (foreshadowing). When we got to the decision point, the morning drizzle had dried up and it was looking like a lovely afternoon, so we threw caution to the wind and headed up another big climb.
John was thoroughly enjoying being on a single bike with his good camera and took full advantage. I was feeling my oats and sped to the top. I wandered around the hiking trail at the top, taking a few photos of my own while waiting for John. Then John arrived and took a few photos of his own. We probably wasted about 45 minutes of clear skies in the process. You know where this is going, right?
It started to sprinkle and we hopped on our bikes for a long, cold and wet descent. We arrived in our tiny village destination to find the B&B was closed for the night! A quick look at the map suggested we'd have a long, cold and wet ride to find a large town with accommodation. But luck was with us, and we encountered a very generous boulanger who offered to let us stay at his home in the next town.
Our Samaritan and his wife treated us to a fabulous meal, wine and conversation, that really turned into the highlight of our trip. We later realized that they had likely brought out things they normally saved for special occasions like Christmas dinner.
As I was telling of this adventure my friend asked how you repay that generosity. And I believe the answer is to "Pay it Forward".
By this I mean, doing something similar for someone else. A few years ago, when we were living in New Zealand, we got this opportunity a few times. Lots of touring cyclists rode through our town. John accused me of hanging out by the tourist office looking for folks to bring home. I wasn't that bad (or good), but we did host quite a few touring cyclists along the way.
It's not always about offering a meal and a bed. It can be help with a repair or a spare tire, or directions to a quiet road. It can be dropping off the group to help a struggling rider, or volunteering at a water stop on a club event. Pay it Forward can be repayment for another's previous generosity or karma in the bank.
One of the cool things about the cycling community is that you really don't have to tell people to do it!