Monday, May 1, 2017

Champaign, IL: The Bosnians

On Monday, April 24th, I left Madison, some of my closest friends, and a romantic interest, headed southeast towards Kenosha. I still had plans to visit friends in the coming weeks, but it was after departing Madison that I really felt I was "on tour." Leaving Minneapolis the week before felt more ceremonial than anything else, as I knew I was headed straight for Madison to see people I love.

Bicycle touring is more psychologically challenging than anything else. Unless you have a serious physical ailment, you can probably pedal 50 miles a day. Sure, without training, you'll be extremely tired and sore afterwards, but get on a bike and pedal for 8 hours a day and you'll end up far from where you started no matter how "in shape" you are. The trouble is not knowing where you're going to sleep every night, if you'll run out of water far from any civilization, and if you'll have anyone to talk to. In the US, anyways, the first two are rarely difficult – it's the third that, for an introvert anyways, can sometimes be difficult.

This is my second tour. My first tour also had a psychological hump: I spent much of day 5 on the beach in Oregon, waxing poetic about the waves and the sand and wondering what I was doing with my life.

On day 6, I met the Bosnians.

Sandro and Sead were tourists from Bosnia (Sandro is from Bosnia, but lives in the US; Sead lives in Bosnia) who were doing a border-to-border from Vancouver, BC to Mexico. We had passed each other at least twice in the past few days, so I knew there were other cyclists around, but it wasn't until I pulled over to heed nature's call and they pulled into the same alcove shortly thereafter, hoping for chain lubricant, that we became friends.

This is how I rode up hills.

They took me under their wing, if you will, helping me find a place to stealth camp that night, even cooking me dinner, and offering me advice (they were the ones who instigating my first weight-purging ritual) and – most importantly – companionship. From meeting them onwards, I was almost never alone: first it was the Bosnians, then Ken, a cyclist I had arranged to ride with via a bicycle touring forum. Once I headed east from San Francisco, I met Tim, from Germany, doing a coast to coast. When I hit St. Louis and headed north to Minneapolis, I was joined by my girlfriend at the time.

At which point my photos all became 10% more rediculous.

Additionally, I was mostly taking a popular touring route created by Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit that promotes bicycle touring and bicycle touring routes in the United States, so I had chance encounters with countless other tourists – at grocery stores, coffee shops, and (mostly) on the road. I was often alone, but I was rarely lonely.

Me and three other groups of cyclists who didn’t plan to meet but were all on the same route.

When my girlfriend joined me, she also had a psychological "hump" of sorts, and she got over it when we met Gene, an Illinois local who introduced himself at a gas station, invited us to stay on his property, let us use his fishing poles, and taught us to filet and cook fish. We decided Gene was her "Bosnian," and thus the term was coined.

Bosnian: A person who helps you overcome a mental hurdle, often during a major life change.

This tour has been a bit different. Indeed, I have met new people every day of the tour. I even had the good fortune to be able to stay in Madison for a week after just five days of pedaling. But maybe staying in Madison created a sharp contrast for me: where I was once surrounded by friends, I have yet to meet anyone else on tour, living the same life as me. I have met cyclists! And through Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site like Couchsurfing but exclusively for touring cyclists, I have met many cyclists who have been on tour or who plan to go on tour. But except for the first 15 miles which I rode with my mom, every other pedal stroke has been taken alone.

Ask anyone with a military record and they will almost certainly insist that shared struggles are a social glue (and here is a study that substantiates that statement). I have been fortunate enough to meet many fine people since having started the tour, many of whom I could even see myself becoming friends with if we lived in the same place. But I haven't met anyone who I can share my struggle with. Leaving my closest friends and having comparatively brief, intermittent social contact has been by the far the hardest part so far.

Where are the Bosnians?


  1. Can't wait for you to encounter your first Bosnian of the trip! Also, I'm stealing your terminology, because it's great

  2. The Lytle's may be your next Bosnians!!! Love you, Mom

  3. I like the term. Maybe you are still in the pre-Bosnian hump and, since this is a longer trip, more hump? But maybe, more Bosnians waiting?

  4. Looking forward to hearing about the Bosnian interactions ! Priyesh