Lake Ontario apples by bike

Dreaming up your next bike tour

It’s a balmy 25°F in Washington, DC and my ride yesterday across the Potomac River was a little chillier than I tend to like. It’s about this point in the season when I bike a little less and dream a little more about bike tours in the new year.

Dream first

My first priority when I think about the next bike tour is dreaming up trips, accomplishments or goals that I’d like to do by bike. Some are big — down the Pacific coast[footnote]Check – did that last year.[/footnote], across North America[footnote]Still to do.[/footnote] — and some are smaller — Pittsburgh to DC[footnote]Check – sort of. Need to do it all in one shot sometime.[/footnote], DC to Richmond, etc.

Find the right trip at the right time

2015 has already shaped up as a year with a lot of international travel that won’t afford me the time for longer bike tours. That means some of my bigger trips (I’m looking at you Crossing North America!) need to wait. What I do have time for next year are a week here or there. These are perfect for routes I’d like to tackle again like the 5-6 day Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP/C+O and a new one I’m itching to do: a 9-10 day trip circumnavigating Lake Ontario. Yeah, that’s fancy talk for going around the lake.

Start planning

I don’t need to do much work on the Pittsburgh to DC route (other than making sure I do it without exploding tires) but the Lake Ontario circumnav is new to me and requires some planning. So… to the Google machine!

A few resources I highly recommend when you’re charting a route you’ve never done before:

  • Crazy Guy on a Bike – someone else has probably done something close to your route and written all about it
  • Adventure Cycling Association – some or maybe even all of your dream route has maps and guides written by these folks
  • Individual blogs – This is where Googling your route is helpful: more and more people are discussing their bike tours on their own websites
  • Google Maps – Yeah, sometimes the bike directions send you on crazy logging roads when there are easier ways (cough cough Olympic peninsula) but the data Google has developed is a huge boon to planning.

For the Lake Ontario circumnav, I’ve found a few excellent resources. Google Maps does a nice plot.[footnote]Although with one of the ferries down for the season, it adds 300 miles… watch out for seasonality detours that might not apply when you’re planning to go.[/footnote] There are two old, but super useful CGOAB journals (2000 + 2002). I even found a commercial tour with a description that was super helpful for showing mileage splits. Oh and someone wrote a book on the route.[footnote]The Amazon reviews are a little unkind to the book, so I may hold off on it.[/footnote] This is a great start.

Pencil it in now

The hardest thing for me is roping off dates for the tour. I’ve found it’s substantially easier to make a somewhat arbitrary commitment well in advance and plan the rest of your life around those dates. It just so happens next May there’s a week when my girlfriend is leading a retreat out of the country and I don’t have any other commitments scheduled.[footnote]Last year we spent a lot of time apart, so I’ve decided to try to tour while she’s got plans to avoid more apart time.[/footnote] On top of that, my parents live on the route and – although they don’t know this yet – they can look after my dog Louis while I’m rolling. That week in late May is probably the best weather along the Lake too. Sounds like a plan… pencilling in the dates feels like the trip is really happening.


Now I’m dreaming up the possibility of inviting others to come with me, thinking about a charity/advocacy/awareness raising component, and a few other things that could make the trip even better. In the end, I may not add any of these things, but now’s the right time to think about it.

What are you dreaming up for your next bike tour?