My first trip on a bike, now ten years ago, was one of the best experiences of my life. I was 20 years old and had never been bike touring before. In fact, I didn’t really know much about bikes, but I had recently bought a Bianchi Volpe that was on consignment at a small bike shop for 250$ (a fortune for me back then). I didn’t know that it was a touring bike at the time, but the Volpe had rack mounts. Once I figured out that I could put racks and panniers on the bike I looked over craigslist and found a cheap older set. This all lead to me, somewhat unintentionally, having a bike touring setup so I decided I should probably go on a trip. But it was winter in North America, so I decided on New Zealand; because it was their summer.
I had friends that had been to New Zealand and it sounded like a cool place and one that was perhaps more tame and bite-sized for my first solo international bike touring trip. It seemed like two and a half months would be enough time to bike around both Islands, though, a long time considering I had never been on a bike tour before. There was plenty of time before trail crew started up again in the spring and I had no plans for the winter, so why not?
I had worked all summer before the New Zealand trip on a trail crew, and most of the fall building a barn for my folks. I had about 4000$ saved, just enough if I didn’t spend much on equipment and if I traveled cheaply. I needed bike shorts for the trip, I found a pair that seemed decent at a thrift store for 10$, they turned out to be women’s, but they had a padded shammy, which was what my bony dirtbag butt needed to survive the long days on a bike seat. I ended up spending about 400$ on the bike, racks, panniers, and other gear, like the bike shorts. That was pretty cheap, perhaps too cheap considering I ended up having to buy a new rear wheel halfway through the trip to replace the rusty one the Volpe came with. Having never done a bike touring trip before I made the classic mistake of over packing and having way too much weight on the bike. I had a stove, steel pot, bowl and spoon, 5lb two person tent, a change of clothes + running shoes + sandals + warm jacket + rain gear. Not to mention a book or two and a leather bound journal, and a compass. Like I said I didn’t know that much about bikes so I didn’t have any chain lube packed, only a set of alan wrenches to put the bike together at the airport. The loaded bike weighed in at over 70lbs! at least half my body weight.
I learned a lot on that trip, how to replace a spoke on the side of the road, that it’s ok to break down in the middle of nowhere, at least in new Zealand. I learned that the cheapest high carb meal I could make without cooking was a can of beans dumped on top of a plate of chips (french fries). I learned that 70lbs was far too much to peddle up a hill! (I did it but it was HARD) and ended up sending a box of stuff back to the states after the first week. I learned that you should wash your shammies from time to time. For a few day’s I road with a german cyclist who told me that if I didn’t get some lube for my bike chain we could not ride together anymore because the squeaking was driving him crazy, so I learn to do that too. But mostly I learned that to travel by bike is the coolest most magical way to see the world and I was hooked from then on.