Bikepacking a Day in the Life: Common Questions Answered

Bikepacking a Day in the Life: Common Questions Answered
As Inverness glows at night, so we shine too from a nearby forest.

What does a day look like whilst bike touring? Here we paint the scene of a typical day, although we smile at those words. No two days are ever the same.

Read on to see photos from our UK chapter in spring of 2022, addressing many common questions along the way, such as where do we sleep, use the toilet, get food, water, etc.

“Wow look at that snail!” Opening my eyes to the dawn hour I see a slime trail following a plump snail crossing the roof of our tent, complete with shell. We often feel much like this snail, carrying our home and moving at a slow pace.

As the dreamworld fades away we awaken naturally by the morning light to our Ikigai. Hearing the new local bird call, smelling and feeling the season, wondering what this day may hold. Sleeping on the ground every night makes us feel closer to Earth, even with the comfy padding of our Nemo recycled sleeping mat and sleeping bags.

Ikigai [ee-kee-gahy] one’s reason for being, which in principle is the convergence of one’s personal passions, beliefs, values, and vocation: those who follow the concept of ikigai undertake the activities of their life with willingness and a satisfying sense of meaning.

Awareness of our surroundings sparks our movement, curious about the new world beyond our humble two-person tent. Normally we set up camp in near-dark, so the environment is a surprise when we awake.

Where do we sleep at night?

Wild camping is our common mode of enjoying the nights. Others call it “stealth” camping and the name suggests secrecy. While we do scope out quiet corners and hidden-from-view spots, we’ve learned not to feel like we’re intruders. People have often seen us camping in odd places and we always greet them super warmly and explain what we’re doing. 99.9% of people are curious and excited for us, asking questions and offering advice.

On our first day of the journey we found a line of trees between a nature preserve and a farmer’s field. We pitched our tent in a bit of grass between the trees and farm field, setting up around 9 PM and rising at 6 AM.

What does a morning look like?

We have morning routines like most, enjoying yoga and the usual teeth-brushing, water-drinking rituals. The biggest difference is we pack up our bed and home every morning and this used to take quite a long time. For example on our first day we may have spent an hour to 1.5 hours assembling all our gear, but over the next several months we gradually downsized and Steven continued perfecting our process. Now we’re down to about 30 minutes or less.

Grounding into our environment and greeting all the insects, animals and elements we meet in our surroundings is a special part of each day.

Sometimes we eat a bit of fruit before setting off, but normally we fast until late morning or midday, cycling about 10 - 15 miles in the morning before taking our first break.

How do we take care of our campsites?

We always leave an offering at our rest site to express our gratitude and appreciation of Mother Earth. We thank the trees for watching over us and commune with the wildlife, gathering sticks, pinecones, stones or whatever we can find to make a heart or other expression of love. This is the only exception to the Leave no Trace philosophy.

From our perspective, the idea isn’t to leave absolutely no trace, but to leave the area with signs of respect and gratitude. We fluff up the grass, make sure we’ve left nothing damaging behind, and depart as lightly as we can. To begin we always seek out a spot without killing baby trees or other plants, so ideally we find a patch of gravel, cut grass, hard-packed soil or forest bedding covered in dry leaves.

What about using the loo?

We have many, many fun wild poo stories. Maybe not so fun for everyone, but they tickle us, reflecting on the many times we’ve had to go in the most inconvenient of places. In midge clouds, in tick-infested grasses, along crowded hiking trails, in the midst of cities, the list goes on. We are now at the point where we much prefer wild-pooing over public toilets, as the wilderness is much more hygienic and enjoyable. Occasionally squatting among stinging nettles with biting red ants can challenge your agility, but you do feel much more grounded with Earth.

For these times we carry our small hand shovel and a portable bidet. That’s a water bottle with a high-pressure pump, allowing us to clean without the use of toilet paper. We carry no toilet paper or wipes! This is core to helping our planet and we encourage others to ditch toilet paper as well. So all we do is dig a deep hole, get in position, and bury the treasure. We also have a bottle of eco-friendly hand soap which we refill at zero waste shops.

Another amazing invention for these times is Kula Cloth, which is a pee cloth designed for people who squat while peeing. This again eliminates the need for toilet paper and also serves as a beautiful flag to hang on the bikes (it’s folded so completely sanitary). Thank you to our sponsor Kula Cloth for providing these cloths printed with my own art! More on these in the future.

"A wee view!" The Cairngorms in Scotland

How far do we ride each day?

Every day varies, but we average about 30-40 miles (48-64 km) a day. Some days less, some more. Our longest day so far has been 75 miles (120 km), and we do average about 50 miles (80 km) in warmer climates.

If you’re on Strava we invite you to follow us under Pedals Turn. We try to post each day to keep a record of the route. The miles we ride depend on so many factors; the weather, elevation climbs, how we’re feeling, what that day’s mission is, etc. Our account is private, but send us a message and let's connect!

Do we have a route planned out?

When we say "cycling around the world," we really mean cycling "with" the world, as this journey isn't designed with a specific route or destination in mind. Our intention is to visit communities we wish to learn with and support, so the journey is truly growing organically as we go.

How long is it going to take?

This question is BY FAR the most commonly asked question. We realize it's sparked by our exclamation of "we're cycling around the world!" so naturally people think of circumnagivation. Our common answer is, as long as we want.

Pro Tip
To increase happiness and reduce stress remove time restraints and don't plan too far ahead. We now primarily exist in 24h chapters, with abundant potential and zero commitments.

What occupies the day?

Aside from riding, we take one longer rest break about halfway, having a full meal before carrying on into the afternoon. We eat two meals a day, so this is the first of two. The second meal is usually at night once we’ve set up camp, or just before finding a campsite.

Our days are divided between Cycle days and Advocacy Visits. We have a map full of places and people we wish to visit and learn with, ranging from eco-villages to non-profit groups, vegan farm sanctuaries to zero waste shops. This is the map guiding our journey, and many of these places and people will feature on this blog.

Of course there are many encounters we don’t plan. We have spent countless hours on roadsides chatting with people we just met. Fellow bike tourers, travelers, and local residents are among the many folks we’ve shared conversation with. Some call to us from across the street, others stop in cars, and some simply say hello as we pass. These chats often happen outside of food markets.

Many of these seemingly random encounters have blossomed into friendships. On some occasions people opened their homes to us, inviting us to spend the night, even after just chatting for a few minutes. We are forever awed and humbled by the kind spirits within our collective humanity.

The days flow according to whatever is happening in the moment. Sometimes we take rest breaks to write, eat, or do a bit of work. In the future we’ll share more about our work and our financial situation, which is also a common question.

How do you keep your devices charged?

We are grateful for our sponsor Sunjack, who have provided us with powerful solar panels to keep all our devices charged. We look forward to sharing specific posts about their panels, but for now we invite you to check out our post about Sunjack, and also visit their website. These panels are easy to carry on our bikes and we can even ride with them open to the sun, charging as we go.

Self-sufficiency is central to our philosophy so having a renewable source of energy generation is a tremendous support.

How do you keep stocked up on food?

Our desire is to receive all our food from zero waste shops, but this is rarely possible due to how few we encounter along the way. We may pass within 50 miles of a zero waste shop, but if it’s not close to our route we rarely detour that far. Local food markets are also an option and we look forward to parts of the world where these are more common.

So far we’ve frequented mainstream supermarkets and have also asked them about their food waste policies. If they have food going out to the dumpsters, would they mind sharing it with us? Most stores are equipped with their own policies, either donating food or offering another explanation. Dumpster diving is something we’re interested in, but haven’t explored yet. We’re huge fans of advocates like Rob Greenfield who offers so much wisdom on this topic and others ways of acquiring food that would otherwise go to waste.

Foraging for food is also something we're learning more about and Steven has a particular love for dandelions.

We usually keep enough food for an average of 2 days, keeping our weight light if we know we’re traveling in the vicinity of shops. In the remote Highlands we stocked up for 5-6 days of food, but even here you find small village shops.

As vegans we don’t eat any animal products and contrary to popular belief, it’s easy and healthiest to sustain ourselves with vegetables, nuts, beans and legumes. These are great to carry and quick to prepare. Our main go-to meals are wraps full of veggies, nuts, seeds, and well, just about everything plant-based. We invite you to watch the documentary Game Changers for an introduction to the many athletic benefits of a plant-based diet.

Occasionally we visit vegan cafes and restaurants, all part of the advocacy of course.

We even discovered pizza vans with vegan pizza in the Scottish Highlands

What about water?

We are grateful for our sponsor One Green Bottle who have provided us with six stainless steel bottles, totaling between us 5.6 liters capacity (Plus 5L Additional Flexible Water Bottles if needed). We also have a water pouch and may invest in more once we reach desert landscapes.

The search for water has led to a number of vibrant encounters and experiences. We do drink the tap water in Western Europe, so finding sources in urban areas is never an issue. Pubs and coffee shops are usually happy to fill up our bottles. In smaller towns we’ve asked local residents on a number of occasions, scouting out people working in their gardens who may lend us their watering hoses.

In France we filled up our bottles in a cemetery, while in Germany a local woman advised us not to do the same there. Instead she offered to meet us at her workplace, a nursing home, and she took our bottles inside to fill them. Gas stations and grocery stores have given us access to their employee-only bathrooms to fill up our bottles. On some occasions people have given us drinks, money and food in generous gestures of support.

Our favorite water collection points have been straight from the source, Mother Nature. In the Highlands of Scotland we loved filling our bottles straight from the rivers and waterfalls. Sometimes we filtered the water if we were near farm fields, but we eventually searched out sources that seemed free from contaminants. This water always tasted delicious and we thank our beautiful Earth for these memories.

What about bathing?

We embrace a natural approach to bathing while living full time on our bikes and take care of our bodies through simple measures. The portable bidet mentioned above? It’s also a great shower. This bottle has different spray settings and a fine mist is quite an amazing experience on warm days. Regardless of weather, we end each day with a sit bath, washing our more sensitive body parts, our faces, hands, feet and also brushing our teeth twice a day.

Our sponsor Suri has provided us with a sustainable electric toothbrush and brush heads, allowing us to charge from our solar panels and keep our teeth sweet.

We wash our clothes about every 2-3 weeks, usually at a campground or Warm Showers host (more on this great community in the future).

BAM is also one of our sponsors for clothing and their bamboo clothing holds up wonderfully without frequent washing. Unlike other synthetic fabrics, bamboo materials are more resistant to odors. Nearly all our clothing in the photos is from BAM and we look forward to sharing more about them as well in designated posts.

Over the last couple of years we’ve also adjusted our approach to hair maintenance, washing our hair about once a week and no longer buying shampoos. Instead we cleanse our hair with baking soda and it works wonders. However we go even longer without hair washes while cycling.

We do brush our hair (semi) regularly, and I (Karla) braid my hair in different ways. Steven has brilliant, beautiful long curly ginger hair and sometimes I braid it too. We think about our ancestors who lived with less and didn’t have fancy shampoos. These products are recent inventions and cause a lot of pollution with their creation processes and packaging. Consider how important it is for companies to make money, so it's easy to promote a product as necessary when really it's probably not.

That said, we appreciate the many artisans who are crating Earth-first products to care for ourselves, believing also in the healing properties of sensual pleasures, such as scent therapy and massage oils.

The best part of each day…

Those in-between moments. Stopping to admire an animal, listen to the birdsong, shelter from rain under hedges and trees, chat with someone at a bus station. The days are full of depth and contrasts, teaching us in soft whispers and loud rumbles of thunder or traffic. We experience a range of emotions, often triggered by the sheer unpredictability of living in ever-changing environments. A helpful practice for this is practicing balance from within, tuning out of traffic sounds or jarring scenes to take care of our wellness.

Our focus is to strengthen our ability to respond calmly, accept the rain showers and shivers with grace and trust in the ebb and flow. Although I have felt far from graceful many times. I have thrown down my bicycle in frustration and wept on busy streets, but these moments have taught us more about the world and ourselves than ever before. We are here for it all.

At the end of the day, how do we find our campsite?

We have a few guidelines for seeking out wild camp spots and these continue to perfect with more experience. We rarely stay at an official campground, but they have helped us a lot when we needed a longer rest break and full body shower.

We’ve learned how to study the map and seek out potential wild camp spots, focusing on forested areas and large expanses of fields between towns. It’s usually quite easy to tuck in between empty lots or farm fields.

One tip we emphasize is to begin finding your wild campsite without feeling like you're doing something wrong. The energy you project is important, and if someone sees you, smiling and greeting them kindly goes a long way. Be open and explain what you're doing.
Learn to read your environment. If the area doesn't feel good, move on. You can tell if a place is frequented by people and if the vibe is welcoming.
Although our society has rules, most people love adventure stories and acts of good-natured rebellion. Most will resonate with your friendly aura and feel curious about your journey.
When in need, ask locals for advice. People generally want to help others and many are open to offering a small corner of their property for your night of rest.

And so this post ends where it began, at the campsite.

By this point we feel tired and ready to relax, absorbing all the events of the day and creating a sense of home in our temporary rest place.

We greet each new land with respect every day and kindly ask for Nature to shelter and hold us.

We remind ourselves that we are of the Earth and no one truly owns the land. Ownership is a myth, an illusion. Like money, it only has value because we collectively agree to give it value. At the end of the day, at the end of life, we shall all return to these grounds, and none of us will take our possessions or land deeds with us.

The amazing thing is that we are all made of stars and our greatest wealth is shining inside, forever with us, forever destined to join the stars again.

Written by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart | Photos by Steven Tiller @steventiller