A little more than two years ago, we started planning for our big cycle trip by facing two big questions: how long should the trip be, and how far could we travel over that time period with two toddlers in tow? Determining duration was actually pretty easy, since the maximum leave of absence allowed at Heidi’s work was one year. With that taken care of, we needed to figure out the distance we could cover in that amount of time. Our first option was just to play it by ear and let the distance determine itself. Cycle a comfortable amount each day and just see where that put us in a years time. This sounded pretty simple, and had an adventurous flair to it. However, we needed to avoid winter weather, we wanted to visit key people and places along the way, and we wanted to begin and end in Hamilton, Ontario to make our journey door-to-door. It became clear that we needed the stability and predictability that a solid route plan would give us — like knowing roughly where we would be, and when, throughout our trip. Planning a basic route would also be a motivator for us, and give us something tangible to think about and share with others when discussing our plans.
Our route came together after dreamily piecing together a few Adventure Cycling maps, and drawing lines on maps connecting areas we wanted to visit like Mexico and Central America. The resulting distance was about 20,000km — a pretty overwhelming number for us! Seeing as our bicycle touring experience is comprised mainly of sub-2-week trips, we didn’t have a clue if we would be able to cover that distance in a year, especially as a family. While we knew we were comfortable traveling around 90km per day, we needed to account for taking it easy on rest days, unexpected illness, planned family visits, and other occasions that would take us off our bikes. After some thought, we came up with a distance calculating equation that gave us a little anxiety relief. It was pretty simple actually, and allowed us to easily determine how far we would be able to travel throughout the year. It looks a little something like this:
Since we plan on riding 5.5 days per week and taking at least an additional 50 planned rest days at various points throughout the trip, we realized that it would be possible to cover well over 20,000km in a year. The distance of our desired route no longer seemed as daunting — and in fact, it seemed quite doable. We knew that there were a good amount of rest days built into the plan, as well as room for less-than-average-length riding days — and our planned chunks of time-off were accounted for. It eased a bit of our anxiety and made us even more excited for our trip because we knew we would be able to handle the route we desired! Since the equation was just a rough account of our time and distance, we also knew there was flexibility built right in. If worse came to worst, we could always ‘tighten the loop’ of our route with short-cuts, reducing our total distance and ensuring that we would make it back to Hamilton at the end of the year (a fringe benefit of touring door-to-door instead of in a straight line).
Another great part about this equation, is that reversing it allows us to determine our location on key dates throughout the trip, as long as we know how much distance we plan to cover.
For instance, we want to coordinate two extended-family get-togethers during our journey, one in Ludington, Michigan, and another in Denver, Colorado. With our departure date set for June 18, 2011, and 743km between Hamilton and Ludington, the equation tells us that we will most likely arrive in Ludington on June 29th, 13 days later — accounting for two extra rest days. Knowing this date allows the rest of the family to plan for time off work and to book the necessary campsites for our stay in advance.
Likewise, we plan to cover roughly 2,300km between Ludington and Denver, so if we leave Ludington July 5th (and account for 10 extra rest days) we can estimate our arrival in Denver around 43 days later on August 16th.
Of course the whole equation is based on quite a few assumptions, so it is possible we are being too optimistic or regimented in our planning. Only time will tell if these equations prove accurate for our trip, but we do plan on testing them on some shorter trips this summer. Let us know what you think, and don’t forget to share with us your method for planning the distance and duration of your own bicycle tours.