The foremost reason I wear a helmet is not out of fear of automobiles! It is a reasonable precaution I take in case I pitch the right front wheel over the side of the pavement on hilly or mountainous terrain. This has happened to me, fortunately on level ground, but what if it occurs on a narrow road in the mountains (which I frequently ride)? If my trike rolls over into a ditch, or over the side of a switchback, that helmet may well save my bacon.
I rode a motorcycle for many years, and once fell at 50 miles per hour, not because I was hit by a car, but because my front tire unexpectedly deflated. No cars were even on the road. I had it all to myself. So there I was, my body sliding along on the asphalt at speed, with my right leg still under the motorcycle, and my face only about an inch and a half away from a road about to make mince meat out of it. What stood between my skull and that grinding pavement? My helmet! Had it not been for that white cap on my head, I could now be dead, severely maimed, or at least have a really ugly face.
During the many years I windsurfed, I also wore a helmet. There were no cars out there on the water, but my helmet still saved me. Once, while I was learning, my 16-foot mast fell squarely on my head after I had taken a spill, giving me quite a violent rap. Had I been without a helmet, it would have been highly likely that I could have suffered a cracked skull and severe concussion, but due to that thick padding in the helmet, all I got was a rude awakening. It kind of dazed me for a moment, but I was fine and got back up on my board and sailed to shore. During my learning phase, I was also pitched over the high side by wind unexpectedly catching the sail, which meant that my body went for a wild ride upside down, high in the air, and got slammed into the water backwards. Again, I was so glad to have my helmet protecting me from my own errors!
How fast can we go on a trike? Well, I’ve had mine up into the mid 40s on long steep downhills, which is just slightly slower than I was riding on my motorcycle that day so many years ago. My trike helmet is not as protective as my motorcycle helmet was, but at least it places some crushable cushion between my head and pavement, rocks, or trees. The very essence of who I am as a human is contained within my skull, and if that is lost, so am I. Do you know anyone who has suffered traumatic head injury, and although they visually appear the same as ever, the person you once knew is not inside anymore? It is a very sad situation to realize that your friend or family member no longer recognizes you, or remembers their past. Protect your brain. It is all that makes you who you are!
As the folks in England who manufacture Inspired Cycle Engineering trikes have so eloquently stated in their owner’s manual: “If you have a cheap head, get a cheap helmet.” Enough said about brain preservation. It’s your head. You decide if you want it to keep working like it currently does so that you can continue to enjoy riding your trike. I like my head just the way it is!
I also strongly advocate following all traffic laws while riding your tricycle hither and yon on your most-excellent trike tour. Here are some reasons for my recommendation:
1) It’s the law.
2) Motorists will come away with a good impression of trikers.
3) We will have some legal ground if perchance struck by a car.
4) It may keep us from experiencing a car/trike physical interaction.
5) We expect motorists to abide by traffic laws for our safety on the trike.
6) Obeying traffic laws helps our collective cause to share the road.
7) We meet the same standards of conduct we expect of motorists.
Let me elaborate briefly on these five points:
1. It’s the law. Trikes are subject to the same rules of the road as automobiles, and so are bicycles. If we choose to use the roads, we must all follow the same rules so there is not chaos and danger on the roads. Sure, we may have some rebellious streak inside that believes the laws don’t apply to us, or we may think that “Big Brother” has no right to regulate human-powered tricycles, but the next five reasons provide enough motivation for me to follow the law whenever I ride.
2. Motorists will come away with a good impression of trikers. This is an important point for all trike pilots to keep in mind. When motorists witness a trike moving across an intersection in violation of a stop sign or red light, it reflects poorly on the entire trike community. The next time they see a triker, it will be: “Well, there’s another one of those weird bikes whose rider thinks he’s above the law.” Please keep this in mind if personal philosophy allows routinely ignoring socially accepted rules. It only takes one of us to imprint a negative image in the minds of car drivers. Let’s face it, when we’re out there on the road, we need all the positive support we can get to remain safe! A triker that blatantly disobeys the law in front of motorists earns all trikers a poor reputation. It’s not fair, but human nature seems to generalize (seen one triker, seen ’em all).
3. We will have some legal ground if perchance struck by a car. If a car hits a triker, but that same triker just ran a stop sign, who is going to listen to the trike rider when he claims legal protection under the law? The motorist will say: “He just ran the stop sign right in front of me.” or some such thing. Trikers who follow the traffic regulations can at the very least stand on firm technical ground. It’s no guarantee, but it’s a strategy that may well keep us from getting a ticket, protect us in court, or allow us to prevail in an insurance battle. Let’s keep the odds stacked in our favor. And yes, police certainly do cite cyclists who break the law!
4. It may keep us from experiencing a car/trike physical interaction. No one wants to get hit by a car, but the potential clearly exists. Taking the time to stop momentarily at a stop sign may be enough to see a speeding car that we would have otherwise missed, a car that could have easily hit us had we run the sign. Another case in point are cyclists who ride on the wrong side of the road, which puts them at high risk of getting struck by an automobile. Drivers look to their left before entering the roadway, and if we are triking according to the law, they will probably see us. If however, we are riding from the other direction, opposed to traffic flow, a motorist is not at fault if he pulls out in front of us, thereby causing our trike and us to slam into the underside of his car. Riding on the wrong side of the road is one of the major leading causes of serious cycling accidents.
5. We expect motorists to abide by traffic laws for our safety on the trike. So, it is a safe bet they expect us to abide by traffic laws also. For the sake of argument, let’s say that all those people driving two-ton steel boxes out there also believed the law didn’t apply to them. What would that do to our thinking while pedaling along on a busy street? We can trike in relative mental comfort precisely because we do expect all motorists to follow the letter of the law, but if they stopped doing this simply because it was against their personal philosophy, we could not count on any margin of safety. As we approached a sign-controlled intersection where there was a stop sign for cross traffic, how would we feel when the car ran the sign right in front of us? If everyone did as they pleased, the streets would be much more dangerous than they already are.
6. Obeying traffic laws helps our collective cause to share the road. Most petroleum powered people respect a trike pilot’s right to use the road. Most give wide berth to us as they pass, which is a good thing for any triker out on the open road. The majority of drivers are patient as we turn left in heavy city traffic, or as we cross a narrow bridge with no shoulder. By following the laws designed to keep all people safe who use the roads during their journey, we are earning the respect of most drivers who encounter our slow moving machines. Earning respect is the premier manner to motivate folks to share the road with us. Doing as we please with no consideration of laws or traffic issues only damages our reputation, impedes progress of state and national “share the road” campaigns, and outright angers impatient drivers who think we have no right to be on the highway in the first place.
7. We meet the same standards of conduct we expect of motorists. To expect a certain behavior of others that we don’t demonstrate ourselves is hypocritical. It’s simply illogical to demand that everyone else do something that we ourselves refuse to do. Sure, I might run stop signs or ride on the wrong side of the street for years, with no apparent harm coming from my actions, but at the very least, I am holding a different standard for others that I refuse to follow for myself, and at the very worst, I am telling thousands of drivers who see me that trikers don’t care about safety laws. And since trikes are such a memorably bizarre form of transportation, we can bet that motorists won’t forget. Car drivers can be resentful that cyclists want equal protection under the law when they see cyclists routinely choose to disobey the very laws they expect to protect them, especially since cyclists are the first to cry fowl if struck by an errant motorist.
Well, that’s enough of my legal preaching for the time being. My years in law enforcement have shown me a lot of things that most folks don’t ever see or think about, thus the impetus behind my stance on traffic laws. I’ve seen folks hurt, permanently disabled, and killed due to others who break the rules. These sad memories have remained with me, and I realize the gravity of a moment’s indiscretion. Sure, I have my own personal contentions with governments and the big-brother phenomenon, but following traffic laws for my own and others safety is something that I willingly and happily do. I encourage all trike pilots reading this to evaluate their own conduct when riding in the presence of impressionable and impatient drivers. Do it for the greater good of the trike realm!
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Once the trike has been prepared, emergency supplies and tools loaded, panniers full of all the gear, mind and body up to the task, and zero-hour arrives, it’s off into the jaws of adventure. Hopefully they won’t chew us up too bad! Actually, it’s the adventure that draws most of us out there in the first place, along with that wonderful indescribable feeling of freedom. Without a certain element of unknown and danger, life would be a dull grind to the grave, so the trike really spices things up and keeps boredom at bay.
After the initial moments of trepidation pass, over the course of several miles at the beginning of the first day, the mind settles in to the task at hand. The heart rate slows, at least from causes of mental anxiety, and it’s time to fully enjoy every inch of the journey.
That’s what’s cool about touring on a trike … the inches can indeed be appreciated, and that means a new-found wonder for such things as flowers, trees, rocks, animals, sky, and sounds of nature. These are all things that automobile drivers never come close to experiencing while they travel. Cars simply travel far too fast, are too far off the ground, make loud whining noise with their tires, and often have the windows closed to preserve the comfort of the passengers at high speed. Most motorists only see fleeting glimpses of the landscape, but they are not a part of it on their hurried transit.
A trike pilot is an integral component of the territory through which he pedals. He has eye contact with horses and cows in the fields. He hears the songs of cheerful birds and the wispy wind in the grasses. He feels the fresh air passing over his athletic body, and has a lingering attachment to his world that petroleum powered travelers opt to ignore in their impatience. The trike pilot moves along at seven miles per hour, while the car driver rockets by ten times faster.
Motorists could enjoy every mile as it passes to a very limited extent, but in our modern society they are usually too focused on getting to their destination as quickly as possible. Trike pilots, by the very nature of their human-powered vehicles, are clearly not focused on ultra swift travel. We throw off the chains of the “Type A” personality, step away from the “hurry sickness” that has infected the culture at large, opt to see the Earth at plant level, and relax into the rare realm of triangular locomotion, a secret place that will never be heavily populated by the mindless masses of mediocrity, who shun physical exertion like a cat does water.
The very fact that you are reading these words means that you either already understand these concepts very well, or are well on your way to doing so. If you ever only take one cross-country trike trip, it will be full of memories that no one can take away from you, and you will have gone far beyond the bounds of the boring box. You will be living on the edge, at least for a while, and you will not be taking up too much space on this incredible planet. Trikers don’t leave large invasive footprints that spoil our habitat. There is no toxic exhaust, nor is there noise. We move silently through a hidden world of universal harmony. The air is still clean after we pass by, and few even know we were there unless they see us with their eyes.
We pedal. We eat. We drink. We sleep. We pee. And we poop. Life is simple out on a trike tour. No car to break down. No gas to pump. No speeding tickets. No hurry. And no worries of a blowout at 65 miles per hour. Are there any downsides?
There are pros and cons to everything in life. Pros include such things as being able to eat like a horse and not worry about gaining unwanted weight. Of course, triking also requires copious amounts of water intake because pedaling up long steep hills draws heavily on the body’s energy resources. What goes in must come out of course, and as the body is filled to capacity with food and drink, one of the potential cons arises: where to offload all that food and water!?!
Normally, conservative authors are hesitant about writing of topics that are too personal for prim and proper etiquette, however, since trike pilots are a rugged bunch, used to living on the rugged edge of life, I figure chatting a bit about a legitimate concern on a trike tour won’t offend anyone reading this. In fact, it may even bring a chuckle or two, or a thought of: “Yeah, I know the feeling!”
And what a feeling it is when the bladder is heavy. Petroleum powered people see signs like “Rest Area Ahead”, “Next services 43 miles”, or “Visitor Information” and can easily wait for the convenient room of rest. Not trikers though! Or at least not often. For a trike pilot on tour, it would be sweet coincidence to have a rest area pop up just at the right time. And if the next services are 43 miles, at 7 miles per hour, it will take 6 hours to get there … can’t wait that long! Dang, what’s a triker to do?
Can you hold it that long?
Well, it’s pretty elementary actually, and since I’ve been taking to the wilds like a bear to berries since I was a wee kid, the solution just comes naturally. We simply scout the upcoming terrain (which is easy at trike speeds) for that perfect arrangement of bushes and trees, and then quietly pull off the road. If a few cars are coming, just hang out for a moment and pretend you’re doing something else (like taking a drink from your water bottle), and when there is a lull in traffic, quickly make like Superman and disappear from sight. This works well for liquid off-loading. Solids we’ll discuss in a minute.
I’ve spent a number of days triking through desert terrain, where the only cover consists of scattered creosote bushes … for hours worth of riding. The road is often straight, making sight virtually unlimited. In this situation, I look for at least two creosote bushes together, so that one shields me from cars in each direction in the event a unexpectedly speedy driver overtakes my position prior to my completion of watering the thirsty plants. A group of three allows me to “step inside” for complete privacy. Only my trike out on the shoulder bears testimony to my existence in the bushroom.
Whether or not a person can pee is often a factor of how calm he is. Nerves can shut down the ability to start the flow, that is unless the situation is so bloatingly urgent that you could pee right on the pavement if you had to. I guess a triker could always wait until the last minute so that it comes fast and easy, but the intervening time before hand on the trike may not be the most enjoyable, as the beautiful scenery tends to fade when all you can think about is getting rid of processed water.
I drink a lot of water because it is what my body demands while triking for 8 hours each day. It is not wise to withhold drinking because you don’t want to deal with going to the bathroom, or in our case, the bathbush. Drink loads of water to keep the muscles working at maximum efficiency. Cramps are the last thing you want! In fact, cramps are only part of the picture. This is a fact of trike touring, and adaptation must be made if you’re going to take a trip. It can actually be fun to find that perfect place to experience the “ahh” feeling. Water intake is a vital concept, so please keep the following water facts in mind:
Your body is a water-based system, composed of roughly 57% water. Every cell requires water to function properly and survive. Thirst is an awareness signaled by a person’s brain that the body’s water volume has fallen below a specific level necessary for optimum cellular functioning. If ignored, the circumstances that are causing thirst can lead to dehydration and ultimately death. Thirst indicates that the fluid balance of our cells is low, and requires replenishment by taking in water by mouth. It is generally agreed that an inactive human should ingest approximately two liters of water per day (a little more than a half gallon) to keep the body healthy. Trikers are not inactive, so that number must be adjusted upwards. Our bodies have the capability to sweat 4.2 quarts an hour! To avoid dehydration in a hot environment or during strenuous activity like triking, check urination. If a person develops a full bladder at least every 3-5 hours and the urine is lightly colored or colorless, dehydration is probably not occurring. If, however, urine is deeply colored, or urination occurs after the passage many hours (or not at all), fluid ingestion is likely not sufficient for long term continuation of healthy survival.
Seventy-five percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated, and they don’t even ride trikes all day. In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is mistaken for hunger, and since they don’t ride trikes, they get fat. Mild dehydration will slow down our metabolism as much as 3%. Lack of water is a primary cause of daytime fatigue for couch potatoes. A 2% drop in body water can result in short-term memory loss, and we may miss a turn on our route. Dehydration symptoms to be watchful for include: headache, visual illusion of snow, lowered blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, delirium, tongue swelling, unconsciousness, and death.
Once 2% of a triker’s water volume has been lost, these effects begin to manifest themselves, first with thirst, then with loss of appetite and the feeling of dry skin. Our heart rate will increase and fatigue will come very quickly. Reaching the top of hills will seem like agony. If we cry, there will be no tears. This all leads to an increase in body temperature due to lack of sweating. At 5% water loss, our arms and legs will begin tingling, we will feel queasy, and our fingers will have difficulty grasping the handlebars. When we pass the 10% mark, our muscles will become convulsive and uncontrollable, which will lead to bizarre pedaling spasms, or falling down if we attempt to get off the trike. Our skin will wither, our eyesight will begin going dim, and we’ll be unable to shift gears. If we hit the fifteen percent water loss mark, we are about to become the next victim of a miserable dehydrated death, and later someone will find our pathetic parched skeleton sitting on a tadpole trike in the middle of the barren desert … just because the pilot didn’t want to pee!
Oftentimes I trike alone, which means that bathbush breaks are up to me whenever the need arises. I don’t have to consult with anyone, and I can take advantage of the opportune moment and location. But what about trikers in a group? You’re all riding along, talking, and the last thing you want to do is seem like a person with a bladder control issue if no one else seems to express the need. One of three things may be up: either the others aren’t drinking enough water, they all have huge storage reservoirs, or they are just as embarrassed as you are to mention that they need to find a spot to go. Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter. Triking is demanding business, so treat your body right!
Before any group tour commences, discuss particulars that will arise on the trip, including bathroom stops. Devise a pee plan. Have a good laugh about it. After all, if you’re going to be on the road for several days with these folks, they better darn well have a good sense of humor! Maybe you drop back and then catch up afterwards. Or perhaps everyone stops and stays together. Make a joke of it. Laugh out there on the road of adventure. We all pee, so it’s only social brainwashing that proper people keep personal things like this private. You simply have little choice each day … the others will usually know when you go, and you’ll know when they do. Remember, death by dehydration is your only other option.
Every time you come upon a standard toilet facility, whether at a gas station, restaurant, rest stop, or an occasional oddly-placed outhouse, take advantage of it. At least, that’s what I do. It’s a long time between towns on a trike. I have found that wayside bathrooms appear now and then too, so there really are a fair number of toilets out there (in one form or another). I know I’ll have to pee between towns in the wilds several times, but I still will use a bathroom at Safeway if it’s there and I have to go. This is especially true for number two.
On my Oregon to Death Valley journey, I had a portable toilet seat in my trike trailer. It was the kind with lightweight aluminum legs that fold so that it takes up a slim amount of trunk real estate, and it weighted practically nothing. I figured that in the hours on the road between regular toilets, it might prove a lifesaver. I used to use it on my extended backcountry trips in my Jeep, where towns and toilets almost never appeared … best view from the john you could ever ask for!
Well, what I found out was this. Since solid waste disposal is often a long time in making itself known, and is often predictable based on our own unique habits, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I never took the seat out of my trailer because nearly every time the urge began to noticeably grow, a normal sit-down solution was soon at hand. People normally poop once a day it seems, and they have a pretty good handle on the situation, and are able to time things to their advantage. And so it is on the trike. I pee continually on the route, which is quick and easy with no mess or fuss (this is one time I’m glad I’m not a girl), but once I poop, I’m good for another day or so.
Another important point to keep in mind has to do with human physiology, and that is since you are burning off calories at a break-neck speed pedaling all day (often over mountains), the urge to dispose of solid matter is greatly diminished over normal daily living, where a lot more food builds up. Out on the trike tour, there just isn’t much food that is left over for disposal. Nearly all is well utilized by a body starving for calories, a situation that is clearly advantageous when bathrooms are at a premium. If you learn to balance your caloric acquisition versus expenditure well, you’ll be surprised at how little waste exits, and how infrequently it does so.
The power of suggestion is strong in the minds of humans. Go take a break. I’ll still be here when you get back. Bringing this unmentionable topic to a close, the whole issue isn’t as bad as one might suspect beforehand, and that’s on an unsupported primitive style tour like I prefer; spend your nights in motels and you’ve got it well under control.
Stopping for lunch is always something to look forward to on a trike. With that nice reclining chair, one might suspect it would be the desired place to sit and eat, but standing is the name of the game for the midday meal. As comfortable as trikes are, it just feels good to get out and stretch the legs while munching on some energy bars and downing a vegetable juice. Another great aspect is that you get to pick your scenery for dining. Perhaps a stunning overlook happens by at noontime, so spend a few minutes and enjoy. If you’re with a group, lunch is even more fun, a time of sharing and lightening the load, both mentally and physically. For those who prefer commercial eateries, if one conveniently appears at the appropriate time, you’re all set, but you can’t count on it at tricycle speeds, so come prepared. I don’t have the money to be eating out, so I do it on the cheap in the backcountry.
I love breakfast! Awakening in the tent in a wild or remote setting, usually off the main highway a bit, is a spiritually refreshing occurrence. The air is cool, first light has broken so I can see around the landscape about me, my body is refreshed as much as it can be from yesterday’s ride, and I’m ready for a hearty breakfast. First things first though.
My water bottle always accompanies me in the tent each night because I prefer to keep the hydration process in effect. It means more up-time during the night, but on a trike trek, I always go right back to sleep because my body truly needs the rest. When you pitch your tent each evening, make sure the entrance to it faces in a way that you have privacy when offloading nighttime water. Pitch near a large bush or tree whenever possible. If you’re by yourself, it’s easier because no one is around to disturb when you get up. If you’re with a group of trikers, you may wish to pitch the tents in their own private spaces. Companionship is a great thing, but not when you can hear everyone when they get up and go!
I try to time my breakfast so that sunrise is upon me when I begin preparation. There hasn’t been a watch or timepiece on me for well over twenty years now, so the light in the sky tells me all I need to know. Having some sun bathe me each morning makes me feel good emotionally, and it helps to keep the body and fingers warm, as it’s hard to wear gloves when preparing some grub. I eat simply, usually wheat and barley nuggets like Grape-Nuts, topped with a handful of raisins, a couple of dried plums (what most folks call prunes), and a multi-vitamin supplement. Since soymilk is to heavy to carry along, the cereal is filled with water. If a market is handy shortly before tent time in the afternoon, then a soymilk might find its way into a pannier, because it tastes better than plain water and it provides more needed protein for muscle rebuilding.
The good thing about not being tied to staying overnight in motels and eating at restaurants is that I don’t try to time my ride around them. I just go at my own relaxing pace and start looking for an overnight spot when I think it’s time to call it a day. Probably the best scenario for folks who prefer more comforts than I talk about here is a supported tour, if the extra cash is available to acquire these luxuries.
On a tour with automobile and staff support, things are all well planned in detail ahead of time. You get food at prescribed times each day without having to carry it in your luggage on the trike. Snacks are available as needed whenever the van passes you. And you get pampered too, with far fancier grub than a primitive triker eats. Riders don’t have to worry about anything except pedaling along and enjoying the scenery … without all the extra weight that self-supported tours require in the way of supplies. Every choice has its upsides and downsides. My way is inexpensive, relatively speaking, but I am roughing it big-time. Of course, for me, that’s great, as I’m a naturalist at heart and love to do it. For others, the thought of it would turn them off. Yes, there are a number of city slickers who would tour only if supported, and that’s fine too. I want to try it at least once myself, just to see what it’s like.
Another way to do a tour with other tadpole trikers splits the difference and may be worth considering. Say you have a group of five trike pilots and their trikes. Well, one person in the group donates their van for the tour. At any given time, one person is in the van driving, with his trike in the back or on top. The van is full of supplies like food and your sleeping gear. So, there are four trikes on the road all the time, one trike is in or on the van, and who drives rotates every hour. With this method, you get the peace of mind that a car brings, but you don’t pay the costs of professional commercial support. Another perk is that you get at least one hour rest per day that an unsupported triker doesn’t. On a ten hour day, you get two of these breaks. After an hour of driving, you’ll be eager to get back on the trike!
Primitive solo trike journeys make things simple on many fronts. You get up when you want. There are no group decisions necessary. You can leave right after eating breakfast, no need to wait for anyone else to prepare for departure. Solo triking lessens the time before starting out in the morning. It has always been my experience in the backcountry that groups always extend the time needed to get on the trail or on the road. Some folks get to talking, which is enjoyable, but burns daylight. Of course, on trikes there is a huge benefit regarding talking: You can still keep chatting while riding, until you come to those long steep descents, when everyone is having so much fun flying along at 45 miles per hour that talking fades into grinning!
Getting back to eating, dinner is probably the most deserved meal of the day. You’ve pedaled for eight to ten hours. You’ve gone over many hills and probably some mountain passes. Your legs are tired. You want to stand up for the rest of the day. And you want to eat! So, you find a great camping spot, what is called a stealth camp, and pitch your tent for the night. They are termed stealth camps because it’s comforting to know you are invisible to everyone else. It also keeps any negative encounters with letter-of-the-law cops, or with unsavory transients, to a minimum.
I have known a lot of cops, having been in the profession for a while. Some stick to the book and are tough guys, while others are easy-going and mellow spirits who allow a wide margin when it comes to rules and laws. I was part of the latter, and would never hassle a cyclist just trying to get some shuteye wherever he could find it on the long road of a cross-country journey. Some officers though will let you know if you’ve pitched a camp that is somehow illegal, usually by location, and they’ll make sure you leave, which is the last thing you want to do after erecting a tent and relaxing to eat. It’s even worse if you’re already in the sleeping bag when they find you!
If quitting time finds you on a stretch of road that is lined with large ranch properties, it can be a challenge to find a camp. If a land owner sees you set up, a call to the local sheriff may get you booted out of the area, even if you’re on the road right-of-way. Sometimes, wealthy ranchers are insecure in their secluded castles, with a distrust and fear of unknown people, and they can have a variety of ways to protect themselves, like high wattage motion-activate spotlights and vicious dogs that will most assuredly find your tent after dark if not restrained to their owner’s property as required by law.
Camping below the radar is the best solution. Some trikers wait until nightfall to pitch, so no one knows they are there, and they make it a point to leave before daybreak. That is a true stealth camp. It also is a little more regimented than I want to be. I prefer to pitch my tent while the sun is still on me, and I prefer to break it down the next morning when the sun is back. Nights get cold, even in summer depending on where you are. My fingers do better when warm, rather than bitter cold. I’ve triked all day and my body is in a caloric deficit at the end; the last thing I need is to burn even more calories just trying to keep my hands warm while setting camp and eating dinner.
Getting back to dinner … again, my preference is to be able to be warm and enjoy the natural surroundings while I eat, so I make it a point to pitch my tent about an hour before sunset at the latest. I savor walking around and seeing the landscape as I eat, carrying my bowl of rice and vegetables, and my spoon. It’s a time of mental and physical relaxation and rejuvenation, something that maximum stealth camping doesn’t always allow. Every time I camp, the realization of how lucky I am to be experiencing this simple living in this great land really hits home. When I say great land, I refer to the marvelous planet we all call home. Everywhere we go, there is much to relish and honor. I’ll take this to a penthouse view any day.
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Finding a camp site is a daily treat, although some might consider it a daily chore. If you get an early start in late afternoon, it is indeed a fun activity as you check out each little nook and cranny that will offer shelter and concealment in the terrain. If you wait too late in the evening, it can be a situation where you take what you can get, which may be far from ideal. On a trike tour, allow time to be relaxed about decisions. Don’t box yourself in and have to hurry figuring out the best option because it’s getting dark.
Allow the time to pick a location that meets your needs: off the road as far as possible, concealed from passing motorists, protected from high winds, far away from any artificial light sources (if in a more suburban environment), and a place that is not likely to be stumbled upon by anyone else. Start earlier than you think is necessary, as sometimes the best spot is just a little farther on. Of course, you don’t know that ahead of time, so it’s a gamble for sure, but you might think something better is just around the bend, and find out it gets less desirable, so you may choose to return to the last good spot you saw. Time lets you make a wiser choice.
If you have planned ahead of time to use selected government (BLM, Forest Service, etc.) or commercial (KOA, etc.) campgrounds, then it becomes more straightforward. All you have to do is maintain your riding schedule to arrive at the campgrounds before dark. In your preplanning phase, if you chose campgrounds that are realistically spaced, say 50 miles apart to make it easy, then you can be fairly confident of making each one. Be prepared though in case something that day prohibits reaching your next scheduled campground. One thing I have learned well during a lifetime of outdoor adventure and camping is that it’s wise to always expect the unexpected, and be ready for multiple eventualities. The only thing certain about a triking tour is uncertainty … unless you are in a fully supported commercial tour, where chances of things going awry diminish markedly.
When on a fully supported tour, overnights can be a thing of pure joy, where lavish dinners are waiting for you, and your tent and gear is ready to go upon your arrival. Other cyclists will be there too, so there is plenty of action and camaraderie. Most of the other riders will be on two wheels, and many may be curious about your three, especially if you are really fit, and passed a few on the uphills and flats. If you are in the vicinity of the two wheelers come downhill time, well, you’ll really earn their respect (and possibly envy) as you fly past them to the bottom. Trikes are far more aerodynamic and reach higher speeds on the downhills. In any event, all that competitive stuff aside, people will want to talk to you each evening, so be prepared. You may get a kick out of hearing them complain about sore wrists, necks, and pelvic regions, while, as a trike pilot, you experience none of those typical bicycle blues.
That leads to another thought: The reason recumbent tricyclists don’t get those traditional aches and pains of bicyclists is due to the reclined manner in which a trike pilot sits. Our bodies are supported very well on the recumbent chair, at an exceptionally relaxing angle, our feet are held to the pedals with binding mechanisms, our arms are comfortably at our sides, and the neck rest is available whenever desired. There is no sliver of a hard seat forcefully pushed into our hindquarters (would anyone watch a full-length movie at home on such a seat?), our upper body is not supported by our delicate wrist bones, and our head does not have to be consciously held at the extreme rear limit of its travel just to see where we’re going.
Trikes clearly make a lot of sense when it comes to maximum touring comfort! A trike pilot’s relaxed view is that of the road ahead, the sky above, and the scenery all around. The wrists never bear any unnatural loads, and there is no need to free the buttocks of painful unforgiving impalements. The trike’s mesh or padded seat makes for miles of smiles. I’ve heard trikes called the “lazy man’s bike” but my preference is to think of them as a smart man’s bike, although, they aren’t bikes at all. It’s just a public convention to perceive any pedal-powered vehicle as a bike regardless of how many wheels it has. Well, enough of this bike/trike comparison stuff. To each his own. All I know is every time I see a long distance biker on tour, I am SO glad I do it on a trike!
There’s nothing lazy about taking a trike tour. It’s a lot of hard work for sure. The trike makes it easier and more fun though. Trikes are heavier than bikes however, and prone to get stuck sooner on some dirt roads. Oops, there’s that bike word again, but a bike does have an advantage here. I’ve stealth camped on dirt side roads covered with sand and silt. The rear drive wheel tends to dig in, along with the rear cassette and chain, and it can be easy to grind to a halt … too much touring weight for one thin tire to get enough traction. A biker can step off and walk his rig by lifting up on the center frame. Trikers can’t do that.
Lifting a loaded trike is not something you should attempt, even if strength is not an issue, because trikes are inherently highly unstable when lifted off the ground. They tend to tip very easily and quickly. Awkward is the word that comes to mind. If you get stuck on any road surface, and pedaling is no longer an option to keep moving forward, get off and turn the trike around the opposite direction. Then, go to the rear, lift up on the pannier rack as you stand up straight, and walk the trike backwards with the rear wheel off the ground. The two front wheels, which are now trailing, keep it incredibly stable, and you can easily keep on moving to or from your camp area even in deep sand or crud. Just be sure not to lift it too high because the front chainrings could drag in the dirt.
For stealth campers who seek the primitive experience, this backwards technique will be used often enough, because to get off paved highways for a quiet and private overnight, dirt roads are usually the best option out in the country. Since I pulled a trailer on my first cross-country jaunt, I could not move the trike easily on deep silty roads as I described above. I had to walk backwards all hunched over and pull the trike AND trailer by the trike’s front derailleur post. What a drag that was … literally! Heck, I burned even more calories doing that maneuver, which was very inefficient, uncomfortable, and slow! If anyone had seen me, I am sure they would have thought I was a nutcase directly from Notre Dame.
The way I see this trike tour affair is through the eyes of a man who loves the wilderness … and getting out into it without destroying it is now my lot. To stay in motels each night is too much like just being at home, except that it costs an arm and a leg to sleep in their rooms. For me, camping in the wilds is part and parcel with triking in the wilds. It’s part of who I am. I enjoy the challenges that come with locating and successfully operating a stealth camp. An occasional campground for a shower can be a welcomed interlude now and then, but motels are a last resort if something is wrong or I need to rest up from a physical injury (which I have done).
I was cautioned prior to leaving on my first long trip by well-meaning conservative people that camping in a tent near paved roadways would put me at risk, that I might be harmed by transient miscreants with nothing more productive to do than accost a lone and vulnerable traveler with no car. If one hears enough of this talk in the weeks prior to departure, it tends to become an imagined reality, which can lead to pre-trip anxiety. And so it was with me, despite years of specialized training in self defense in one of my former lives. After all, I had grown older, somewhat weaker, and my mind was going soft from lack of hardcore adventure. But when the day came to pedal out of the driveway and into the remote unknown, I ventured forth nonetheless.
There I was, pedaling over roadways that were taking me farther and farther from home, all by myself, in a vehicle that had no locking doors, alarms, or speed capability to allow for rapid escape in the event some unknown human might choose to impinge upon my personal freedom to exist peacefully. That first night, I was on the watch. I chose a place to pitch my tent behind some large evergreen trees and dense bushes, well concealed from the paved road in a turnout spacious enough for an eighteen wheeler to negotiate. The soothing sound of the Umpqua River kept me calm as the sky clouded over and it began to mist.
Several cars drove in and out during my pitching of the tent, eating dinner, and just hanging out prior to bedding down. I go to sleep early while camping, so every once in a while after I hit the sack, the lights of a car would momentarily illuminate my tent as it pulled in so the driver could use the concrete block outhouse on the other side of the dirt area. Once they discovered it was inexplicably locked, they would then quickly leave. Next thing you know, first light was appearing through my tent walls. Amazing! I had survived the night and had a new day ahead, albeit it kind of wet from light rain.
With each passing day and night, the fears continued to vanish, until finally … they were gone. So, I began thinking about this fear of intrusion, and whether I was just getting lucky, or if the dangers are highly overrated.
Here’s what my mind now sees as the explanation, although of course, there are always exceptions. Next time could be different, but then again, I think there’s something to this: Imagine the mind of the criminal intent on stealing someone’s money. So here’s this guy lurking through the bushes looking for easy prey. They always look for a vulnerable mark because they don’t want their plans to go haywire and end up hurt or in handcuffs. Okay, this guy (it’s almost always a male) sees my tent, my trike, and just me standing around, or maybe I’m in my sleeping bag already. So, what’s he thinking?
A number of things actually! Even their brains have some processing power, and they are able to figure most things out well enough to survive. First of all, I’m on the ground in a tent with no car. It’s likely the evil-doer figures I don’t have much money on hand, otherwise, why would I be traveling like this. For all intent and purposes, a solo triker could easily be mistaken for a bum, and we all know bums ask for money because they don’t have any. Second of all, the bad guy entertains the thought that maybe whoever is in the tent is a pretty tough hombre, otherwise why would he be out here alone in the first place? People living along side roads have to know what they’re doing, so he likely deduces that I may even be more of a danger to him than he is to me. Thirdly, he may wonder if there are two people in the tent, which would double his trouble should he decide to perpetrate a nasty and despicable deed. And finally, this hoodlum may see me as a kindred spirit, and honor some unspoken code that one thug never steals from another.
Well, I did carry some cash with me on that trip, perhaps a couple hundred dollars or so, with a backup credit card. That may or may not have been worth his while, but the second thought would be the most accurate of the four. While I’m a peace-loving nature boy who gives wide berth to potential trouble, I do know how to take care of business if necessary. It’s like that Roosevelt chap once said: “Walk softly but carry a big stick.” This is not said as way of a boast, for truly, I abhor violence and male machismo, but rather as a matter of fact. I have been well trained how to successfully walk away from life threatening humans with guns or evil intent, and after years of practice, those types of mental and physical actions embed themselves in one’s motor memory.
By the end of the first week living on the road in a tent with my trike, I stopped worrying. A couple of nights, when in the middle of nowhere with no ideal camping landscape to be found come evening, I pitched in pullouts within full view of passing traffic. Traffic out there was minimal compared to cities, but it was obvious I was there. The entire trip proceeded without negative incident. I relate this story for anyone who may still fear camping alone, and I am not the only one with these findings. There are thousands of hikers, bikers, and trikers each year who traverse this grand planet in the warmer months and can attest to peaceful nights for weeks on end. Just as chances are mighty slim a grizzly bear will eat you, so are the chances that a newly escaped inmate from the local slammer will steal your trike and tent. There’s simply not much of a payoff for someone to accost a lone person in a tent with only a trike!
My advice? Banish the fear and live free. Fear only serves to keep us shackled and imprisoned in a world full of anxiety. Like the old Beatles song of long ago once sang: “Live a little, be a gypsy, get around …”
You may say: “Well, he dispenses this advice, but he lives in a la-la land and has been lucky.” True, I may have been lucky so far, but I don’t live in a la-la land, oblivious to the rare dangers of reality. I’ve seen the ugly sides of life as a cop, so I do prepare accordingly, just in case, but I don’t let the thought consume me as do some people. I was asked by several friends prior to my trip: “You’ll be packing a revolver, right?” My answer was no. I had sold my collection of bullet-shooting devices not too long after leaving law enforcement, and was not going to buy a new one simply for this trip. First of all, I didn’t feel I needed one, and second, my scant touring money had to be used in more productive ways than acquiring a device designed and created primarily to kill another human being.
There was one elderly lady in a small northern California town on my trip who began chatting with me at a local market when I stopped in to use the restroom and get a V8 juice. She saw the loaded trike and trailer, and asked where I was headed, so I told her out through northeast California and into northwest Nevada. She knew the barren and unpopulated road well, and emphatically told me that I must keep my gun at the ready while pedaling through there. Apparently, according to her, the ultra remote region was haven to marijuana growers, and they don’t hesitate to waste folks they believe may be snooping around, she said. I just thanked her for the information, but did not engage in a discussion about my preparedness. The lady also told me that the destructive remnants of a Pacific hurricane were going to hit me out there once I crossed into Nevada … she was right about that one!
What I do carry with me on the trike is a large Buck knife that I’ve had for over 30 years and always carry while out in the backcountry. Knives come in handy for many things, including survival applications if necessary. In the highly unlikely event that I would ever be accosted by a deranged person, I suppose it could serve me well there too, however I would prefer to just use my hands and arms in a one-on-one combat situation. I must admit though, that the comfort factor is there, however gruesome it may be. The last thing I want to do is get involved in an incident that would involve the local authorities, and most assuredly delay my wonderful trike adventure!
I’ve been speaking primarily about potential woes of primitive camping, because that’s what I mainly do. What about trikers who choose motels or campgrounds? I did stay in a couple of motels on my trip, unplanned of course and not for long. There, the question arises, will someone rip off my trike while I’m asleep? I left it outside each night, not locked to anything or even to itself. The trike ripoff fear had already subsided by then, and I figured that if they really wanted it, that’s life, and it would provide me a reason to go shopping for another one. Again, this is one of those things where fear so overrides many people that they can’t relax about daily living. Chances are no thief will mess with it because he doesn’t have any use for such a bizarre thing anyway, and fencing it would prove problematic (assuming he could even figure out how to use it, as most non-cyclists I’ve met can’t even figure out how it steers).
By the way, that’s another advantage of trikes over bikes. Bikes are stolen all the time. They are easily fenced (illegally redistributed), bring money to the thief, and some criminals actually end up using the bike for themselves. Trikes, on the other hand, don’t register on the thief’s mental radar. He doesn’t want it for himself, and no one he knows would want it either. A trike is nothing but a white elephant or albatross for most of the population, so touring on something that no one else wants is a good thing! Another factor in a triker’s favor is that a bicycle thief would have to ride the trike away if he was on foot, which would be very obvious for bystanders to observe, thus providing reliable information to the police, and if the thief had a car, getting a trike into one is next to impossible. If he had a truck, he could lift it in the back, but it he would likely drop the highly unstable machine once he picked it up from the ground, and the whole awkward maneuver would really stand out to other folks witnessing it.
When I stopped at a busy Albertsons supermarket during rush hour in a large town to get some fresh fruit, I parked the trike right in front to the side of the entrance. People were everywhere, many in their business clothes after work. Witnesses were thick in the event a thief was lurking. If you need to buy something, you’re by yourself on the trike, and you fear theft, use the busiest store available and park where the most people can see the trike. It’s either that or park in the rear where no one can see it, which would work if the thief doesn’t see you leaving it. Out of sight, out of mind. But if you were spotted by a criminal, he has a prime opportunity to snatch your three wheels with no witnesses (assuming he’d even want the darn thing). Both are options with pros and cons. I consider each based on the particular situation. Another advantage of parking in front of everyone is that nearly everyone stares at the trike as they pass because they haven’t seen one before, so the fact that it draws heavy attention is another plus; thieves don’t like attention!
The contents of my panniers are not very valuable to anyone, things like jackets, clothing, tent, sleeping bag, etcetera, and some of it dirty no less. I always keep my wallet and digital camera with me. People see touring cyclists every year. Their cycles and panniers are soiled from miles and days on the road, and almost guaranteed safe from theft as a result.
I’ve strayed here a bit from motels. You can see that one topic readily brings up another one, and the threads are so numerous that it’s difficult to remain true to a single idea. Many issues have overlapping aspects, thus the intriguing wandering monologue. Back to overnight stays.
Some trikers take their rigs into the motel room with them. That’s certainly an option if you find yourself in an area of questionable repute. My trike is an ICE Qnt, and has probably the narrowest track width of any tadpole tricycle, at 27.5 inches. It fits right through standard doorways with no problem, so I could just wheel it in if I wanted to. Most trikes have a 31-inch or wider front wheel track, which could necessitate tipping it sideways, which is problematic if loaded with gear. This is assuming of course that your room is on the first floor and accessible to the outside. Motels with central hallways are harder, and if your room is upstairs, good luck … you’ll need it. At any motel, always take your panniers and trunks inside with you regardless of where you park the trike.
Locking the trike to an unmovable object is also an option. I haven’t done that in most situations, and the lightweight six-foot cable lock I have could easily be cut by a medium sized pair of bolt cutters. To carry one of those super strong U-Locks would mean considerable extra touring weight, which, in my opinion, is simply not worth it! It may soothe your sole around town to have one of those locks, but don’t pack it for a long tour unless you welcome a heavier load, more muscle exertion, and slower pace.
Campgrounds provide a comfortable overnight location for a triker on tour. In many states, governmental campgrounds run by the state or feds offer highly reduced payment for us. Many have what they call “hiker-biker” camp areas, perfect places for an exhausted trike pilot to pitch for the night. A real bathroom and/or shower are close by. A picnic table is standard fare. Other people camping all around provide emotional security of safety in numbers. People come over to talk about your trip and trike. Some offer you free food, beer, and a place at their campfire because they feel sorry for you. Other cyclists may provide good conversation as you share your journeys.
Hiker-biker camps in Oregon are only about five bucks, compared to a standard twenty or more for autos. A triker can camp for at least four nights for the price of one night in an auto campsite. Recently, while in northern California at the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, I happened upon that state’s hiker-biker camp. It costs $8, which I thought was kind of steep until I saw it. Wow, utter luxury to be sure! Each one, situated on the bank of the beautiful river with huge redwood trees all around, had a miniature picnic table, an unbelievable rock edifice that housed a cookstove, and a well maintained flat area to pitch a tent on the soft ground. Deluxe bathrooms were only yards away. It was the best trike camp I’ve ever seen … as far as campgrounds go, of course. And, unlike Oregon’s hiker-biker camps that are communal with no privacy, Jedediah Smith’s are all separate and totally private with their river frontage. There are five of these at that park, and they surpass the auto camping area with their views. Guess it’s well worth the extra three dollars!
Now, private campgrounds are another story usually. I checked at a KOA this past summer and was told that everyone pays the same price, whether you’re in a van, car, motorcycle, bicycle, or just hiking. Unless you are really desperate for some reason, avoid these private campgrounds while on your trike tour. That’s not to say that some may provide a hiker-biker discount, but it would be rare. Not only that, but many of these private campgrounds, like the KOA I just mentioned, really compact the sites for maximum revenue flow, with no concern for anyone’s privacy, so you feel like a sardine, packed in between a van and a car, with their tents only 12 feet from yours. And if that’s not bad enough, many of these businesses have high wattage lamps everywhere so people can see like daylight at night, which is not conducive to a deep sleep.
On my trike trip, I passed through Klamath Falls, Oregon during rush hour. It was getting late, I had a lot of miles under my belt that day, and I wanted to pitch camp soon. I was unfamiliar where I might set my tent, and could see that the autumn sun might set prior to finding a good spot, something I always try to avoid by allowing sufficient time. I passed the Klamath Falls KOA, which was right off a busy four-lane main thoroughfare. It was a noisy and active place, and I kept on pedaling. After getting some fresh fruit at a market, I continued through the large city. Once out into the rural portion of Altamont, which borders Klamath Falls, it was clear to me that I had a ways to go if I wanted to clear the rural final homesteads, but I didn’t want to chance nightfall making the finding of a camp even more difficult.
That’s the night I recalled what my Catrike 700 friend Matt Jensen had told me about churches being a potential in a tight situation. The Harvest Christian Center appeared to my left. I walked in and introduced myself to the husband and wife pastors, who were preparing for a musical gathering of the faithful. They happily offered their huge south lawn for my overnight needs, and assured me the automatic sprinklers would not come on that night. I pitched my tent on the soft grass, right next to a farmer’s fence with horses on the other side and the sweet smell of agriculture in the air. No sooner than the tent was up and I started eating some grub, a magnificent sunset treated me to an awe-inspiring photograph with my digital camera. It sure beat the KOA: It was free, had immaculate restrooms, and the views were superior. I slept well, with complete privacy. I didn’t need a shower yet anyway, at least in my opinion.
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One thought that I’d like to put out there again is one that’s born of perception. What we perceive might happen is usually not what does happen. This is especially true with occurrences we would typically view negatively. It is very important for any trike pilot, or ordinary human for that matter, to let go of fear, doubt, and anxiety in order to fully enjoy life. There will be many varied experiences on a cross country trike tour, and they will all go into our mental and/or written notes as memories we’ll not forget during our brief time in this life. Not allowing ourselves the freedom to live these moments because we believe disaster is around each corner is not living.
I don’t want to forget any aspect of my times on a trike. They all make up my triking life, who I am as a trike pilot, and go into the mix of my total awareness that keeps life the adventure that it is. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to explore on my trike due to fears of what might happen. I do my best in all things, and what happens happens. That’s life. That’s the way things go. It’s all part of my story, and so it is with you. We cannot control everything. In fact, there is little we really can control on the grand scale of things. At times, we forget our life is transitory, and live as if there are unlimited tomorrows. This can put the time we do have to poor use, as we let it slip by while not living it to the fullest.
I don’t want to forget the bad times in life, or even the bad times on a trike trip. Were it not for the bad, how would we know good? We appreciate the special positive times more because we have a knowledge of other times that weren’t so positive. Life is an epic adventure, and every component of it is worth savoring while we can. Something else to keep in mind is this: People love to share stories with each other. Trikers gather around and swap tales of their times on the road, and inevitably the topic of worst experiences pops up. We enjoy hearing about all those tough times they had, and we eagerly share ours … “I remember that frigid night in the snow when I was shaking despite pedaling the trike up that dark steep mountain all alone …”
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