Car­rie and John Mor­gridge are not your ordi­nary moun­tain bike trail riders—and their 2,800-mile bicy­cling expe­di­tion to con­quer the Great Divide Moun­tain Bike Route is clear proof of that. As Car­rie puts it, it takes pas­sion, deter­mi­na­tion, and the sup­port of loved ones to get you through an adven­ture of this mag­ni­tude. “John and I had our first day on the GDMBR trail from Banff, Cana­da on July 17, 2016, and we nev­er looked back,” says Car­rie Mor­gridge. “And 46 days of bik­ing (we didn’t count the days off) lat­er we arrived at the bor­der cross­ing in Ante­lope Wells New Mex­i­co on the Mexico/USA border.”

While Car­rie and John are avid ath­letes (Car­rie has com­plet­ed nine Iron­man com­pe­ti­tions to date), the chal­lenges pro­vid­ed by the Great Divide Moun­tain Bike Route were unique. Carrie’s new book, The Spir­it of the Trail: A Jour­ney to Ful­fill­ment Along the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide (May 2018) recounts the expe­ri­ence in detail, com­plete with mishaps, lessons learned, and how it strength­ened the rela­tion­ship with her husband.

We talked to Car­rie about the chal­lenges of endurance bik­ing and why your men­tal strength it’s often far more impor­tant than your phys­i­cal one.

The Clymb: How long have you and John been moun­tain bik­ing? Is this a per­son­al pas­sion or do you enjoy oth­er out­door sports as well?

Car­rie Mor­gridge: Our pas­sion for sports start­ed for both of us at an ear­ly age. When we first met, my first ques­tion to John was, “Do you know how to water­s­ki and snow ski?” When we got mar­ried one of my first gifts from John was a new moun­tain bike! We both grew up out­doors play­ing sports, camp­ing and enjoy­ing nature. It is a lifestyle for us, and for our chil­dren (our kids didn’t have a chance). John says that he thinks he and his child­hood friend Bar­ney cre­at­ed the first moun­tain bike. While grow­ing up in Boston, their child­hood bikes got too small for them, so Bar­ney and John would go to the dump and trick out their bikes. It’s fun to hear this sto­ry to this day, from the 1970s.

The Clymb: What makes the Great Divide Moun­tain Bike Route so special?

CM: A mil­lion things. The beau­ty of the trail, not being on the road with cars, yet com­ing into small towns where peo­ple want to talk with us about the jour­ney and share their aspi­ra­tions of some­day get­ting on the trail. I per­son­al­ly liked the com­mit­ment to unplug for 60 days and tru­ly immerse myself into John, into nature, and into the phys­i­cal aspect of the route.

The Clymb: Why and how did you decide to take on the trail?

CM: My hus­band had always want­ed to take an Adven­ture Bicy­cle ride with me, and once I had back surgery, I need­ed an out­let where I could get back in shape. When John pro­posed the GDMBR and showed me a cou­ple YouTube videos, I was all in.

The Clymb: How did you train and pre­pare for it?

CM: John did all the research online for the equip­ment, from read­ing blogs to order­ing books that sup­port­ed the GDMBR. We con­sid­er our­selves ath­letes, keep­ing in shape six days a week. Once we com­mit­ted to the route, we trained for base, i.e. bik­ing much more until we got up to our ranch in Steam­boat Springs. Once we were in Col­orado we could train at alti­tude with our bikes for the trail. In 21 days, we logged 650 miles.

We slow­ly added weight to our bikes as we added dis­tance to our train­ing rides. On the first day of bik­ing on the GDMBR, we felt 100% pre­pared. Bik­ing fur­ther than we had in the train­ing days, but we were hap­py with the train­ing we did.

The Clymb: A 2,800-mile bicy­cling expe­di­tion is obvi­ous­ly dif­fi­cult, but if you had to pick the most chal­leng­ing thing about doing this, what would you pick?

CM: It is total­ly men­tal. Of course you are sore, and of course, you are wor­ried about bears or not find­ing water when you need it. How­ev­er, bik­ing as a team is the MOST impor­tant thing. We encoun­tered many sin­gle rid­ers who would not make the entire route, and we talked about it. There are so many hard days and hav­ing each oth­er is what got us through. We knew we wouldn’t fin­ish with­out each oth­er; the sup­port we gave dur­ing the dark­est times and the hard­est times is what helped us fin­ish. We applaud the rac­ers who are out there on their own.

The Clymb: When you’re on a trail so long and so chal­leng­ing, how do you deal with exhaus­tion? Do you push on or do you lis­ten to your body and take breaks as needed?

CM: From our years of com­pet­ing in Iron­man races, we learned to lis­ten to our bod­ies. How­ev­er, on the trail, it is a whole dif­fer­ent ani­mal, as we didn’t have a base or a home to rest at. On the sec­ond night on the trail, we stayed in a hotel room, and that was our moti­va­tion to push for­ward. Dur­ing the push through the Great Basin, my leg was killing me. Each ped­al hurt like a knife was stab­bing me. John helped me through by slow­ing the pace and block­ing the wind. The Great Basin was just four days from our ranch in Steam­boat. We took 1.5 days off of rest to let my leg heal. What had hap­pened was I was so tight from being in the same posi­tion for thou­sands of miles. Once I stretched prop­er­ly and took Epsom salt baths, that did the trick. I nev­er had leg pain like that again, and I stretched faith­ful­ly after each day of riding.

The Clymb: Did you and John expe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent chal­lenges on the trail? Did you train dif­fer­ent­ly or dealt with dis­com­fort differently?

CM: We are more bond­ed than ever. As I men­tioned ear­li­er, we know that we need­ed each oth­er to fin­ish, and that was our mantra—what can I do for you today? How can I make your day, your trip, your life bet­ter? On sep­a­rate days, we hit our own hard spots, our own dif­fi­cul­ties, but we sup­port­ed and loved on one anoth­er to get through. This is why, in my opin­ion, bik­ing in a group or with a part­ner is so impor­tant. We were more in love at the end of the trip than we had been in our 25 years of marriage.

The Clymb: What’s next when it comes to adven­ture? Any more trails or trips planned?

CM: We asked our­selves this ques­tion as we were bik­ing through New Mex­i­co. When we got back to Colorado—we pur­chased an RV and now adven­ture around the Unit­ed States with our Surly bikes and our beloved dog Nina. John made Nina a car­ri­er on the back of his bike, and she loves adven­tur­ing with us.

We fell in love with Mon­tana, so we sold our ranch in Steam­boat and are going to try Big Sky, Mon­tana! We have plans to bike the Ida­ho Springs 700 mile loop (anoth­er Adven­ture Cycling Asso­ci­a­tion route) next summer—and from there we will be inspired by friends and fam­i­ly for the next great adven­ture. See you on the trail.

The Clymb: Any fun (or ter­ri­ble!) mishaps along the way?

CM: My per­son­al mishap was not pro­tect­ing my face from the sun. After the first week, my lips were so sun­burnt they throbbed and stung at all times. While doing laun­dry in Butte, Mon­tana I found a thin neck gator in my pack. From that day for­ward, I used it to cov­er my neck and entire face for the rest of the trip—no more sunburn.

grand canyon

While brag­ging isn’t the main rea­son you get out­side and push your­self, you can’t deny it feels pret­ty good rev­el­ing in your accom­plish­ments to close friends and fam­i­ly (or any­one that will lis­ten). All across the coun­try, the nat­ur­al land­scape con­fig­ures some per­fect phys­i­cal chal­lenges that could leave you bruised, bush­whacked and pos­si­bly regret­ting once boast­ful intentions.


grand canyonHik­ing: Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, Grand Canyon Nation­al Park
Going from Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) involves just over 40 miles of trekking, with sig­nif­i­cant ele­va­tion change along the way. Typ­i­cal­ly start­ing on the south rim, day hik­ers can take either the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon where they con­verge at the Phan­tom Ranch Ranger Sta­tion. From there, the North Kaibab trail gets you to the north rim, where you then can repeat the whole process to get back to the start.

Obtain­ing this sought-after adven­ture achieve­ment should only be done with a deep under­stand­ing of your own phys­i­cal abil­i­ties and fac­tors like ele­va­tion, expo­sure, and dehy­dra­tion. Per­mits are not required if you can do it with­out spend­ing the night, but it is heav­i­ly advised to con­tact the Park Ser­vice to be sure you’re not only abid­ing by park rules, but also so you’re account­ed for as you make your way on this ambi­tious adventure.


Appalachian trailHik­ing: The Triple Crown of Hiking
While com­plet­ing any one of the three most promi­nent long-dis­tance Nation­al Scenic Hik­ing Trails (the Appalachi­an Trail, the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide Trail, the Pacif­ic Crest Trail), is wor­thy of some brag­ging rights, to real­ly get the most boast­ing for your buck, com­plete all three and obtain the cov­et­ed Triple Crown of Hik­ing. Each trail takes a few months to com­plete on their own, mean­ing that to obtain the Triple Crown you’re look­ing at near­ly a year and a half of liv­ing and trav­el­ing by trail.

While that does sound pret­ty nice in respect to nor­mal day jobs and oth­er respon­si­bil­i­ties, it is no easy task com­plet­ing the ardu­ous jour­ney of one long-dis­tance hike, let alone three of them. While there’s an unof­fi­cial aspect of sim­ply claim­ing to have com­plet­ed the Triple Crown, the Amer­i­can Long Dis­tance Hik­ing Asso­ci­a­tion (West) can offi­cial­ly com­mem­o­rate the expe­ri­ence with a plaque and per­son­al­ized poster to serve as a sym­bol and visu­al brag­ging cue for your achievement.


leadville 100Bik­ing: Com­plet­ing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, Colorado
The Leadville Trail 100 MTB is an awe-inspir­ing endurance event that tests the best adven­ture ath­letes across the world. Tak­ing place exclu­sive­ly in the Rocky Moun­tains of Col­orado and the San Isabel Nation­al For­est, the Leadville 100 MTB starts above 10,000 feet and climbs a total of 12,000+ feet with­in the out and back course. The only thing that makes the it a lit­tle eas­i­er is the amaz­ing Rocky Moun­tain view that lines the entire way—plus the extreme­ly grat­i­fy­ing feel­ing of cross­ing the fin­ish line after a gru­el­ing 100 miles. For those with­out moun­tain bikes, the coun­ter­part Leadville Trail 100 Run is an equal­ly arse-kick­ing adven­ture worth brag­ging about.


birkieSki­ing: Cross-Coun­try Ski­ing the Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er, Wisconsin
Serv­ing as North America’s largest cross-coun­try ski race, the Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er tra­vers­es 55 kilo­me­ters from Hay­ward to Cable, Wis­con­sin, pass­ing by much the of the scenic wood­lands and win­ter beau­ty that define this Mid­west­ern State. The Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er is a well-orga­nized and high­ly antic­i­pat­ed event that occurs each Feb­ru­ary. Despite the com­mon bone-chill­ing tem­per­a­tures, thou­sands of peo­ple show up each year to watch and par­tic­i­pate in the race. But just because a lot of ath­letes show up to the start­ing line, it doesn’t mean that the Amer­i­can Birke­bein­er is an easy task to accom­plish; expe­ri­ence with snow trav­el and win­ter endurance will be key to com­plet­ing the Birkie in a safe and rea­son­able time frame.


horseshoe hellRock Climb­ing: 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell, Arkansas
No bet­ter exam­ple of climb­ing cama­raderie can be found out­side of the 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell at the Horse­shoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas, not to men­tion it being one of the most dif­fi­cult rock climb­ing chal­lenges found in the country.

Horse­shoe Canyon Ranch is a sand­stone mec­ca of sport climb­ing routes for all lev­els of climber, and each Sep­tem­ber hun­dreds of climbers grab their gear and head to this pre­miere des­ti­na­tion for the chal­lenge that is 24 Hour of Horse­shoe Hell. Dur­ing this annu­al event and four-day cel­e­bra­tion, teams of two have 24 hours to clean­ly ascend the most routes they can. If you hap­pen to win this con­test, you sure­ly have rea­son to brag, but even just par­tic­i­pat­ing is an extreme accom­plish­ment worth hav­ing some­one buy you a beer.


cherry creekKayak­ing: Cher­ry Creek, California
The waters of the Upper Cher­ry Creek in Cal­i­for­nia, in prox­im­i­ty to Yosemite Nation­al Park and Tuolumne City, are not suit­ed for first-time boaters. The rapids and dan­gers of this Class V+ water sys­tem is noth­ing to mess around in with­out the prop­er expe­ri­ence. Serv­ing as a trib­u­tary for the Tuolumne Riv­er, Cher­ry Creek is trig­gered by snowmelt and is reg­u­lat­ed by a near­by pow­er­house and reser­voirs to make this quick-mov­ing water acces­si­ble, with most runs tak­ing place between mid-July and into the fall.

To make the 8‑mile run safe­ly down Cher­ry Creek, you need to have a per­fect­ed roll, expe­ri­ence pick­ing lines, and ide­al­ly some­one to give you some beta on the water. Com­mer­cial out­fits and guides do run the riv­er as well, which can give you a lit­tle extra help obtain­ing per­mits and orga­niz­ing shut­tles, as well as some­one with expe­ri­ence to lead the way. Once you’ve crushed this Cal­i­for­nia creek in the Sier­ras though, and you could be ready for just about any pad­dle chal­lenge out there.


denaliMoun­taineer­ing: Sum­mit­ing Denali, Alaska
For­mer­ly known as Mount McKin­ley, Denali is the high­est peak in North Amer­i­ca stand­ing at just over 20,000 feet. The first offi­cial ascent of the moun­tain occurred in 1913, but it wasn’t until 1953 when the West But­tress route opened up did this moun­tain become acces­si­ble to more people.

These days if you want to tack­le the typ­i­cal 17 to 21 days it takes to get up and down the moun­tain, you are wel­come to either go at as a pri­vate expe­di­tion with the cor­rect per­mits, or uti­lize a guide ser­vice that can help with some of the logis­tics. Either route you choose, it takes a healthy com­bi­na­tion of expe­ri­ence, sta­mi­na and men­tal for­ti­tude to even con­sid­er Denali a viable option. Climb­ing Denali deserves its brag­ging rights for good reason.

 

With longer days and sun­nier weath­er, the sum­mer is often the per­fect sea­son to make mem­o­ries that will last a life­time. Those gold­en days and nicer weath­er may seem far into the future still, but with spring­time among us, you can be sure that the sum­mer sea­son will reveal itself in no time. To start lay­ing the foun­da­tion for an epic sum­mer adven­ture, it’s worth plan­ning some trips now and request­ing the right days off work, and if you real­ly want a sum­mer to remem­ber, set your sights high and per­form the due dili­gence for these sev­en unique sum­mer adven­tures to start plan­ning for now.

Presidential-Traverse

The Pres­i­den­tial Traverse—New Hampshire
While you don’t need to have a pre-applied per­mit to tack­le the Pres­i­den­tial Tra­verse of New Hamp­shire, you do need the legs for get­ting the brag­ging rights of this ath­let­ic feat. Fea­tur­ing sev­en moun­tain ranges, all named after famous pres­i­den­tial fig­ures, and any­where from 20 to 24 miles of trav­el with near­ly 10,000 feet of ele­va­tion gain, get­ting an ear­ly start to this all-day adven­ture is your best bet to fin­ish. Dur­ing the sum­mer sea­sons, the trails are sus­cep­ti­ble to after­noon storms and unpar­al­leled North­east­ern land­scapes, and while your thighs and calves are scream­ing on your final ascents, you’ll be glad you took the time now to train for the Pres­i­den­tial Tra­verse and all that it entails. 

Chat­tanooga Moun­tains Stage Race—Tennessee
Fea­tur­ing three con­sec­u­tive big-mileage days tak­ing place in the month of July, the Chat­tanooga Moun­tains Stage Race doesn’t always reach capac­i­ty every year, but it would be well worth train­ing, for now, to com­plete each stage in the series. Each one of the three days of the Chat­tanooga Moun­tains Stage Race explores a dif­fer­ent scenic moun­tain, and aver­ages some­where around 20 miles a day. While that sounds fair­ly man­age­able now at the begin­ning of the warmer sea­son, wak­ing up for three con­sec­u­tive days to put down some big miles may take a lit­tle train­ing to get to.

Back­pack­ing the Supe­ri­or Hik­ing Trail—Minnesota
The Supe­ri­or Hik­ing Trail, which spans the west­ern shore­line of Lake Supe­ri­or in Min­neso­ta, doesn’t have a cap on the num­ber of hik­ers who can camp along its scenic cor­ri­dor, but to accom­plish the entire 260 miles that the tra­di­tion­al trail encom­pass­es, you prob­a­bly bet­ter start plan­ning your resup­ply strat­e­gy now, not too men­tion how to take a few weeks off work. But even if you have to quit your job, the many miles of amaz­ing rock out­crop­pings and cliffs, the abun­dance of lakes and rivers, and not too men­tion the con­tin­u­ous views of the daz­zling Lake Supe­ri­or shore­line, it will be well worth your time to explore this amaz­ing dis­play of North Woods wilder­ness in Minnesota. 

RAGBRAI—Iowa
While the state of Iowa might not be on the top of your adven­ture list, the state real­ly pulls itself togeth­er in the month of July for one of the biggest adven­tures in the Mid­west known as the Register’s Annu­al Great Race Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). This week-long, over a 400-mile event, makes it’s way east across the entire state, stop­ping at and cel­e­brat­ing the small towns of Iowa the entire way. More of a fes­ti­val than a race, RAGBRAI has been cruis­ing the rur­al roads of Iowa for 45 years now, and the good times and thou­sands of bicy­cles have nev­er stopped ped­al­ing since. To take part in this epic event, reg­is­tra­tion is required, and the dead­line for all online appli­cants ends on April 1st, mak­ing this for one sum­mer event to start recruit­ing friends for now opposed to later.

24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell—Arkansas
A good goal to build up to through a sum­mer filled with climb­ing is the 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell at the Horse­shoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Arkansas. Tak­ing place on lit­er­al­ly the last week­end of the cal­en­dar sum­mer (Sep­tem­ber 20–24), this epic rock climb­ing event entices ath­letes to earn points and climb as many routes as pos­si­ble with­in a 12 or 24-hour time span. The climber who grabs the most vert claims 1st prize, but any­one who attends this week­end cel­e­bra­tion com­plete with live music, demos, and quite the col­lec­tion of fun peo­ple, is pret­ty much guar­an­teed to leave feel­ing like they didn’t lose out on any­thing dur­ing the 24 Hours of Horse­shoe Hell. 

Hut to Hut Moun­tain Bik­ing Trip through the 10th Moun­tain Division—Colorado
Not only does the high moun­tain atmos­phere of the 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion Hut Sys­tem require a lit­tle cross-train­ing before plan­ning a trip, but with the well-deserved pop­u­lar­i­ty of these well-main­tained huts is only grow­ing, and you need to book your stay well before your vis­it. With over 13 huts avail­able to rent through the 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion, there is a lot of space to share for sum­mer activ­i­ties, but come late win­ter and spring­time weath­er, the reser­va­tion cal­en­dar for the sum­mer is already well-vis­it­ed. Train your legs for the moun­tains, how­ev­er, and reserve your stay in the huts well ahead of time, and you can treat your­self to an unfor­get­table Rocky Moun­tain expe­ri­ence that will give you a well earned and com­fort­able night’s sleep. 

Rainier

Climb to the Top of Mount Rainier—Washington
To climb to the top of per­haps the most icon­ic peak in Wash­ing­ton, the Nation­al Park Ser­vice requires you to not only pay a climb­ing cost recov­ery fee, but once you’ve paid ($47 for adults), you are also required to obtain a climb­ing per­mit. While reser­va­tions for your per­mit are not required and you can gain one of these the day of your trip, the NPS does rec­om­mend mak­ing a reser­va­tion after the March 15th reser­va­tion win­dow opens up (espe­cial­ly for peak sea­son climbs). More impor­tant­ly, how­ev­er, to get to the top of this rugged, glaciat­ed peak you need to have the right toolsets to be work­ing with. Moun­taineer­ing expe­ri­ence, route nav­i­ga­tion, weath­er plan­ning, phys­i­cal sta­mi­na and even know­ing how to prop­er­ly dis­pose of your waste, these are just some of the ham­mers and nails that will lend to your suc­cess­ful sum­mit of Mt. Rainier and are things worth sharp­en­ing up now before you make the big push to the top. 

BikeRoom_Clymb_BikeCommute_0001

Recent­ly the Clymb team moved our office from the Pearl Dis­trict of Port­land into Down­town. Since, we’ve all had the chal­lenge and oppor­tu­ni­ty to find ways to get to our new space. We’re stoked about the selec­tion of new lunch spots, there are food carts all over,  but try­ing to park a car in down­town Port­land is a chal­lenge,  both expen­sive and stress­ful. Since the move, a lot more of the Clymb team mem­bers have tak­en to bike com­mut­ing. Rain or shine, these two-wheeled war­riors ride into the office almost every day. In hon­or, we’re pro­fil­ing a few of our bike com­muters, each shar­ing what they like about com­mut­ing by bike.


Jeff_Clymb_BikeCommute_0070 (1)

Jeff R. — Email Mar­ket­ing Coordinator
“Bike com­mut­ing has become essen­tial to my week­ly work­out rou­tine. Rid­ing in the morn­ing gives me ener­gy to pow­er through the work­day while the trip home allows me to decom­press and reflect on the day. The best part of dai­ly rid­ing is that I allow more cheat meals and desserts. Com­mut­ing has giv­en me the free­dom to expand my work­outs out­side of the gym.” 

 

 

 

 

Karina_Clymb_BikeCommute_0116Kari­na S. — Senior Graph­ic Designer
“I’m gonna be hon­est, I’m a fair-weath­er bike com­muter, espe­cial­ly in the win­ter. Last sum­mer I used my com­mute to work to help me train for the triathlon I had com­ing up. It was a real­ly easy way to work­out, and one that fit into my nor­mal sched­ule. It gets my body mov­ing in the morn­ing, saves me mon­ey on gas, and get’s me to work just as fast!”

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle2_Clymb_BikeCommute_0093Kyle M. — Social & Com­mu­ni­ty Lead
“I like to go fast, feel the wind blow through my hair, and get my eyes water­ing. Bik­ing is good for the plan­et and my body, plus I dri­ve a pret­ty big camp-ready Taco­ma and it’s a great way to avoid hav­ing to dri­ve my truck around the city. It’s also the per­fect way to avoid all the frus­tra­tion that comes with morn­ing traf­fic, there’s noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing than being able to just cruise past all the peo­ple stuck in traf­fic inside their met­al boxes.” 

 

 

 

 

untitled_0082

Lau­ra A. — Adven­tures Pro­gram Coordinator
“Bik­ing to work has giv­en me a new per­spec­tive on com­mut­ing. My day is set up for suc­cess when it starts with a relax­ing morn­ing ride. Plus, I avoid the stress of rush-hour traf­fic and pay­ing for gas and park­ing every­day. Pro Tip: Always car­ry your rain gear. Don’t let that spring show­er catch you off guard, it’s bet­ter to  avoid show­ing up to work drenched!”

The cor­ners of my mouth twitched slight­ly and I gripped the bike hel­met to my side as if cling­ing to the edge of a cliff for dear life. Stand­ing on a con­crete island smack dab in the mid­dle of a main high­way in Hanoi, Viet­nam dur­ing rush hour, I thought, “What the hell have I got­ten myself into?”

Cars, motor­bikes, pedes­tri­ans, cart push­ers, and ani­mals melt­ed into one swirling hot mess of whirring col­ors, shapes, and sounds. There are no traf­fic lights, police or traf­fic pat­terns to be seen. It was like watch­ing an anthill under attack. Vehi­cles spilled out from an inter­sec­tion one after anoth­er with­out a sin­gle glance or pause, as oncom­ing traf­fic swerved around them. And here I was with my friend Joram, about to hop on our new­ly pur­chased bikes to learn how to nav­i­gate this insan­i­ty before set­ting off on a month long adven­ture bik­ing from the North of Viet­nam, end­ing in the South­ern cap­i­tal, Ho Chi Minh City.

We didn’t know any­thing about bik­ing, or what to expect. All we knew was that we were will­ing to grit our teeth, buy the damn bikes, strap on our bulky back­packs and become com­plete­ly vul­ner­a­ble to this for­eign land.

And, we’re not the only ones. Bik­ing Viet­nam is quick­ly becom­ing a pop­u­lar pref­er­ence for back­pack­ers look­ing to get off the beat­en path, or out of the typ­i­cal tourist scene.

Buy­ing a Bike
The motor­bike reigns supreme as the ulti­mate mode of trans­porta­tion in Viet­nam, and buy­ing or rent­ing is a cheap, quick process. Trav­el­ers attempt­ing to tack­le the full length of Viet­nam start off buy­ing a new or used bike in Hanoi (North to South) or in Ho chi Minh City (South to North). Cov­er­ing the entire coun­try takes about a month, depend­ing on where you want to go and how long you stay in each destination.

Some pre­fer to bike just a sec­tion of the coun­try. The infa­mous Hai Van Pass in cen­tral Viet­nam is known for an exhil­a­rat­ing ride careen­ing around sharp moun­tain curves, with the South Chi­na Sea a vast sheet of sap­phire on one side and loom­ing lime­stone giants on the oth­er. For short trips such as this, rent­ing is the way to go.

Joram and I bought our babies from Hanoi Motor­bikes since we knew vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing about the process. Run by expats who have exten­sive expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge bik­ing Viet­nam, it was com­fort­ing to con­verse in eng­lish. They offer the whole enchi­la­da for around $350—a ready-to-go used bike, hel­met, bag racks, straps, dri­ving lessons, and a map with route recommendations.

Anoth­er option is to buy from a fel­low bik­er fin­ish­ing up their trip. For Sale ads are plas­tered across hos­tel and hotel walls. A used bike runs from around $200 USD and up, depend­ing on the condition.

When buy­ing the bike, of course take it for a spin. Ask what type of main­te­nance and repairs have been made, if oil has been changed, etc. If you are hap­py with the bike, make sure you are giv­en the “blue card.” This is the title and puts the bike under your ownership.

The Strug­gle is Real…
My Viet­namese sou­venirs do not con­sist of objects, but rather mem­o­ries of break downs, close calls, tears of frus­tra­tion, and a nice lime-sized exhaust burn scar on my right shin. Alas, they also con­sist of mem­o­ries of the set­ting sun blot­ted out by dozens of kites flown by smil­ing chil­dren on the side of the road, lin­ger­ing tastes of savory dish­es that I will nev­er know the name of, tak­ing rice whisky shots with Viet­namese truck dri­vers at the Nhà Nghỉ  in the mid­dle of nowhere, and stop­ping in the dead heat of mid­day to skin­ny dip in a pris­tine crys­tal moun­tain lake with no oth­er liv­ing, breath­ing soul in sight.

There were days when my bike was an angel, pow­er­ing up and down the steep­est cliffs, tack­ling long, exhaust­ing four to six hour rides. But, there were also days when an expect­ed easy dri­ve turned into a gru­el­ing sev­en hour ordeal due to break­downs or grav­el roads pock­marked with angry pot­holes and construction.

It’s tough, but with chal­lenge comes self growth and a one-of-a-kind learn­ing expe­ri­ence. I’ll nev­er for­get hit­ting a large jagged rock on a dirt road in the coun­try­side, and hav­ing to bail on my bike. Luck­i­ly, I wasn’t injured, but I was left try­ing to fig­ure out how to get my two-wheeled com­pan­ion out of the deep rice pad­dy next to the road. Next thing I know, an old­er Viet­namese cou­ple pulled up on their bike. With­out a word, they got right down to it, and after some huff­ing and puff­ing, my bike was free. No mon­ey or words were exchanged—just warm smiles as they rode off, the woman wav­ing from the back of their bike.

You and that tem­pera­men­tal steed will form a steel bond, weld­ed through sur­viv­ing the thick and thin togeth­er. Thank­ful­ly, there are “Xe May” signs every­where for bike mechan­ics, even in the most remote areas, so when your bike does give up—and I promise, it will—you can bet help isn’t too far. And gen­er­al­ly, repairs are cheap as dirt.

The Viet­namese know a bike inside-out from the time they are born. It’s not uncom­mon to see a fam­i­ly of four cruis­ing around on a sin­gle bike or young kids fix­ing them in a shop. A mechan­ic can pick out the prob­lem and get it tak­en care of in a pinch. Stick around and watch them at work; you will start to learn some mechan­ics your­self. And, before any work is done, nego­ti­ate on a price.

Then, there’s the Weath­er.
Our first week on the road, Joram and I jet­ted north from Hanoi to the serene moun­tain town of Sap­pa. We were expect­ing glo­ri­ous green land­scapes and breath­tak­ing views, but were dis­ap­point­ed to make the har­row­ing, moun­tain­ous ascent only to get punched in the face with freez­ing rain and walls of fog.

We both had noth­ing in terms of warm cloth­ing or rain pro­tec­tion. Luck­i­ly, shops sell out­door gear every­where in Hanoi and along the roads. Make sure to car­ry a pon­cho, thick jack­et, pants, socks, gloves, scarf and hat. Cov­ered shoes are also essential.

The hot cli­mate in the South means long days of dri­ving under an unre­lent­ing sun. Keep cov­ered in light cloth­ing and wear sun­block to pro­tect from sun­burn. Always keep a water bot­tle on hand to ward off dehy­dra­tion. Down­load a weath­er app and check it fre­quent­ly to help plan your days.

Dri­ve Like a Local
It’s all about adap­ta­tion. Back home in the good ol’ west­ern world, there are laws to abide by and cour­tesy when dri­ving. But in Viet­nam, it’s a whole oth­er ball game. Keep your eyes ahead of you at all times—obstacles will present them­selves and you must learn to expect the unex­pect­ed. You nev­er know when a water buf­fa­lo will jump into your path, or a minibus will be tak­ing the steep moun­tain curve as you are com­ing from the oth­er direc­tion. Don’t fret—your brain will rewire, sens­es will sharp­en and you will be dri­ving with the flow of traf­fic like a local in no time.

So yes, the strug­gle is quite real and tests patience. But if you are look­ing to get out of your com­fort zone, it can be pos­i­tive­ly life-chang­ing and you will learn a lot about the coun­try and your­self. Tack­ling this chal­lenge expos­es you to an incred­i­ble cul­ture that delves much fur­ther than the typ­i­cal tem­ple tour or bus ride packed with oth­er trav­el­ers going to the same touristy town, stay­ing at the same west­ern­ized hostels.

You get stuck in vil­lages that many trav­el­ers haven’t heard of and meet­ing oth­er for­eign­ers is far and few in between. Instead, you become part of every­day Viet­namese life. You do as the locals do, trav­el as they do and depend on your­self for sur­vival in get­ting from point A to point B.

When you do meet anoth­er fel­low bik­er on the road, the bond cre­at­ed is a spe­cial one. After a treach­er­ous week with­out see­ing anoth­er trav­el­er, we spied three back­pack­ers as they cruised past us on the side of moun­tain. The sun was begin­ning to set, and we were tak­ing a break. As they passed, they instant­ly made a U turn and bee lined it for us. We all end­ed up chat­ting for an hour, swap­ping sto­ries of our expe­ri­ences. It was refresh­ing to see oth­er eng­lish speak­ers after a week on our own. But, most of all, we were over­joyed to meet oth­er for­eign­ers that were going through the same exhil­a­rat­ing jour­ney as us.

Trav­el­ing on a Motor­bike isn’t for Every­one…
Maybe you’re on a time crunch, on a tight bud­get, or enjoy trav­el­ing with the ease of a bus or train. In the end, it all comes down to per­son­al pref­er­ence and what you are look­ing to get out of your trip.

But, if you have the time and inter­est, even if you are nervous—give it a go. You may be sur­prised to see just how much you can achieve and get through. Noth­ing com­pares to the feel­ing you get upon arrival at your final des­ti­na­tion, dis­mount­ing and pulling that dirt splat­tered hel­met off your sweaty head after a long day on the path of uncer­tain­ty. Your body is sore and all you want is an ice cold Saigon beer—but you feel con­fi­dent, accomplished—and that beer is well deserved. Everyone’s jour­ney is unique, and the des­ti­na­tion becomes a reward that is earned and appre­ci­at­ed, not just a mere check off the old trav­el itin­er­ary. And, after you get a taste, you’ll nev­er want to get back on a cushy, air con­di­tioned bus ever again.


 

My best friend has had plen­ty of fun­ny sto­ries about for­get­ting to take off her bike hel­met when she enters a place of busi­ness. She has com­plet­ed bank trans­ac­tions, picked up dry clean­ing, and mailed pack­ages at the post office only to real­ize much lat­er that she did it all with her Nut­case hel­met firm­ly on her head. There are also amus­ing tales of her run­ning errands around town, con­stant­ly remov­ing and replac­ing her hel­met at each stop result­ing in a hilar­i­ous case of hel­met hair by the end of the day.

Of course, these are minor — and maybe sil­ly — incon­ve­niences when you con­sid­er the alter­na­tive con­se­quences of not wear­ing a bike hel­met. Could there be a com­fort­able, even fash­ion­able, yet still safe alternative?

Swedish design stu­dents Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin decid­ed to answer that ques­tion for an exam project and cre­at­ed The Invis­i­ble Bicy­cle Hel­met. Did it work? Well, when they pre­sent­ed their fin­ished prod­uct to their pro­fes­sor he told them, “You’re going to be mil­lion­aires.” Watch the video and judge for yourself.

[Via: Focus For­ward Films]