Setting up and tearing down camp every day. Months of cooking limited to one camp burner. Pushing your body through a workout schedule that mimics a full-time job. Powering through headwinds, rain, hail, snow, energy-sapping heat. Navigating unknown territory.
The idea of immersing in a long-distance adventure can be daunting—especially if you’ve never experienced anything like it. But the only way to get that experience is to get on your bike and ride. “If you want to go on a trip,” says Tristan Glen. “Do it.”
With a desire to explore and a learn-as-you-go attitude, Glen (a bike mechanic from Halifax) has biked a series of impressive expeditions. Recently, he crossed Canada.
It was stressful at times. “Sometimes it’s fun to get lost, but not in a city—that wasn’t fun,” says Glen about the time he navigated a tangle of freeways in Montreal.
But occasional slip-ups don’t erase Glen’s best memories. Memories like meeting people across Canada who shared stories, advice, home-cooked meals, and sometimes even a place to stay the night. Or appreciating purple and blue skyscapes, pierced by the Rockies, as he biked through Alberta and British Columbia.
Glen’s next big adventure was a 105-day trip. He toured over 7,000 kilometres, pedalling across Southern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. Glen recollects biking into one of his most precarious adventure experiences during this trip.
Glen and partner Anna Slater had been biking the Eyre highway—a road that traces the south coast of Australia, along the unforgiving Nullarbor Plain. The climate in the region is typically hot and arid with high temperatures that drop drastically overnight. “We were biking through high -20ºC to 30ºC weather,” says Glen, “and I remember we would wake up early and see frost.”
As they biked along, Glen’s free-wheel snapped.
A freewheel is a key part of a bike’s gear system but “not the kind of thing anyone would bring a spare of,” says Glen. “Much less the tools you need to fix that. I’d never even seen that tool.”
When the freewheel broke, the back gears and bearings flew off Glen’s bike and scattered in the sand. “We were this greasy, sandy mix on the side of the road,” he says. “We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Glen and Slater were about halfway through the 1,200 km of desert road they were traveling. The only significant traces of civilization along this portion of highway were small service stations every 100 to 200 km. The stations supplied little more than water and convenience store snacks. “You always had the chance to store up on overpriced junk-food,” says Glen. But an abundant supply of bike gear and specialized tools? Not in stock.
Glen and Slater got lucky: a biker they passed earlier caught up to them. He was the only other cyclist they had seen for days. “He was a strange character,” says Glen. “He was dressed totally in orange. He was pulling this matching orange trailer behind him.”
Orange Allen, as they dubbed him, pulled over to help. He opened his trailer, revealing an assortment of tools and bike parts. The collection included a spare freewheel, the proper sized bearings, extra grease, and all the tools they needed. “He really saved us,” says Glen.
Glen’s longest trip was from the U.S. to Chile. He travelled with his partner Avalon Moore for 324 days by foot, canoe, sailboat, and finally by bike.
Glen and Moore stayed sane by indulging in creature comforts this trip. They brought books, board games, and a laptop for entertainment. They stayed at hostels and pedalled with other bikers on similar adventures. They often cooked on a campfire rather than a camp burner and when their bodies needed a break they took a break.
“Sometimes it’s just really hard,” says Moore about travelling long distances. The thrill of being in a new country and in unfamiliar situations can wear off but in the end, you learn something that is useful no matter where you are in life. “You need to figure out how to keep yourself happy and sane,” she says.
Start Your Adventure
You don’t have to be an expert to go on a long-distance excursion. His travel goals have been to explore and experience the unexpected, not to break records or follow strict itineraries. His style and strategy has allowed Glen to move beyond the idea of incredible long-distance journeys, into experiences he never would have imagined.
1. Save money. If you need to save money, Glen suggests buying relatively cheap gear. “Weighing an extra 15 or 20 pounds,” says Glen, “is better than not being able to afford a trip.” You can often find cheap, suitable second-hand gear online. Travelling in countries with favourable exchange rates helps too. Glen says he spent
less money travelling to Chile than he would have living in Halifax. He spent about $6,500 over a year.
2. Practise. “Everything that you are able to do in one night or weekend trip,” says Glen, “can carry over into a 100-night trip. You just need more food and different clothing depending on where you go.”
3. Plan, but not too much. Based on that practice trip, plan the distance you want to travel every day and how much food and water you will need. Bring back-up food and account for different climates. Bring basic safety equipment like a first-aid and bike-repair kits. Know how to use all your gear. But don’t stress yourself out trying to foresee every contingency.
4. Find a friend. Your bike partner is your biggest safety net, says Glen. A partner can make or break the mood of your trip. Glen says the best biking partners have a common sense of humour, ambition, and budget.